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Cyber-Rights: The Church of Scientology vs. the Net


The Church of Scientology vs. the Net

Following unauthorized postings of its internal documents, the Church of Scientology decided to take strong measures to prevent dissemination of embarrassing material. These include telling the police to shut down sites, and threatening litigation of system administrators who allowed newsgroups to carry the postings. According to Salon magazine, the Church of Scientology is exploiting the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act to harrass critics, either by forcing hosts to temporarily remove Church material or to find the identities of anonymous posters.

Operation Clambake, Ron Newman, the EFF, and FACTNet offer information on this campaign. Of course, the Scientologists have their own side to the story.

Two major cases, one against Dennis Erlich in the U.S. and one against Karin Spaink in the Netherlands, will be settled by May. Both claim that their publication falls under the category of “fair use” (a doctrine that allows you to quote from works for the purpose of criticism, debate, etc.). In both cases, the Church also sued the critics’ ISPs, which raises the policy question of whether ISPs are vulnerable to lawsuits for user actions over which they have no control. But the courts ruled that the ISPs had no liability.

Most court cases have ruled, in the Church’s favor, that dissenters who published its internal documents have violated copyright. But when such documents are introduced into court cases, or are published in legislative proceedings (as happened in Sweden) courts tend to uphold the publication.

The Church has settled its case with FACTNet with an agreement whereby FACTNet to the Church all materials that the Church claims under its copyright and can continue to criticize the Church, but not publish the disputed documents.

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Last updated: October 27, 1999

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