Speaking in 1984 concerning the publication work, Brother Lee says, “The Lord’s recovery must give much credit to the publication work of Brother Nee…The effect of reading the publications is greater and more solid than the effect of personally hearing a spoken message. The value of the publication work is high and weighty” (CWWL, 1984, vol. 5, p. 212).
The publication work in the Lord’s recovery began with Brother Nee in the early 1920s. For the work of publishing his ministry, Brother Nee established the Gospel Book Room, which he moved to Shanghai in 1927. Concerning this publishing organization, Brother Lee says,
The Gospel Book Room did not belong to any church or to the work in a general way; instead, it was fully under Brother Nee’s direction. The Gospel Book Room was his ministry office for his publication work. In 1927 Brother Nee asked Sister Ruth Lee—the eldest sister co-worker among us, who had an excellent command of the Chinese language—to help him in his publication ministry in the Gospel Book Room. Several years later Brother Nee brought me into the service in the Gospel Book Room to assist him in the editorial work. (The Collected Works of Witness Lee, 1980, vol. 2, p. 20)
Although Brother Lee and others assisted Brother Nee in the publication work, the publication work belonged to Brother Nee himself, and before 1949 the books published by the Gospel Book Room were mostly by Brother Nee. Regarding the literature work during Brother Nee’s time, Brother Lee says, “We have to know that the literature work among us was absolutely a personal ministry of Brother Nee. It could not even be considered a work of us co-workers” (CWWL, 1989, vol. 1, “The Glorious Vision and the Way of the Cross,” p. 453).
In 1949 Brother Lee was sent to Taiwan and started the work of the Lord’s recovery there. He subsequently realized the need for the publication work in Taiwan and fellowshipped with Brother Nee. Brother Lee shares the following concerning this matter:
The Gospel Book Room with its single branch in Shanghai was initially Brother Nee’s unique possession. After we left mainland China for Hong Kong and Taiwan, in 1950 Brother Nee came to Hong Kong and brought in a revival there. When the church became revived in Hong Kong, Brother Nee sent me a cable and asked me to come to Hong Kong in order to help with the services. During that visit to Hong Kong I presented to him the need for the publication work in Taiwan. I related to him the increase in Taiwan and told him that I had prepared a second hymnal that included some hymns for the young people and some of his previously polished and edited gospel hymns. At that time he made a new arrangement for the Gospel Book Room, which previously had only one office in Shanghai under his management. He arranged that the Gospel Book Room would have three offices: one in Shanghai, one in Taipei, and one in Hong Kong, with all three sharing the same copyright. He pointed out that because of the political situation, it would be better to have each office under its own management; then he said that he would take care of the office in Shanghai, he charged me to take care of the office in Taipei, and he asked me to charge Brother Weigh to take care of the office in Hong Kong. (CWWL, 1982, vol. 2, p. 8)
Thus, according to Brother Nee’s arrangement, the bookrooms in Shanghai, Taipei, and Hong Kong were one, and the copyrights were shared. Brother Lee adds that “from 1952 onward, prior to publishing any of Brother Nee’s books, the Hong Kong and Taipei Gospel Book Room offices always had some contact and coordination. If we had not had Brother Nee’s arrangement with the permission to publish his works under the common copyright of the three offices, we would have violated the copyright of the Gospel Book Room by publishing his works” (CWWL, 1982, vol. 2, p. 8).
From 1949 until 1961 Brother Lee’s writings were published only by the Gospel Book Room in Taiwan. In 1961 Brother Lee went to the United States, and in 1963 he established The Stream Publishers and put out The Stream magazine (CWWL, 1984, vol. 5, p. 183). In a message given in 1981, Brother Lee shares an important word concerning Living Stream Ministry and its maintaining of copyrights:
After I went to the United States, I registered the name Living Stream for the publication of The Stream magazine. The scope has now been expanded; there is the distribution of not only books but also audio- and videotapes…Someone said that Brother Nee’s messages are the public property of the church; this is going too far. The messages given by Brother Nee are for the public, but when the books of Brother Nee are published by one of the gospel bookrooms, the copyright belongs to the publisher. Unless something is specifically stated in a contract, once a book is published by a publisher, the copyright belongs to the publisher.
Brother Lee continues:
Those who translate Brother Nee’s books should at least have a word with the gospel bookrooms. Even though Brother Nee has passed away, his bookroom is still here. I feel sorry that some people, without having a word with us, translated a message given by Brother Nee that was published in one of the issues of The Present Testimony in 1934. When they translated the message into English, they changed some of the original speaking concerning Christ being a creature. We learned a lesson from this incident and decided that regarding the publication of the ministry of the word, Living Stream Ministry would keep the copyrights of the books that it publishes. In this way our publication work has been put on the right track. (CWWL, 1981, vol. 2, p. 261)
This quote from Brother Lee should help us to understand why Living Stream Ministry maintains the copyrights of the books that it publishes.
Since its establishment, Living Stream Ministry’s purpose has been to serve Brother Lee’s personal ministry, which he considered a continuation of Brother Nee’s ministry. In 1986 Brother Lee said concerning the Living Stream Ministry office: “This little office is a Levitical service serving my ministry to put out the word of God in print and through video and audio tapes” (CWWL, 1986, vol. 3, “Elders’ Training, Book 9,” p. 74). In a future article we hope to share more on the history of the Living Stream Ministry office.