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About the Church of Scientology®

Internet and copyright conflicts

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Sponsored link.


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Copyright conflicts on the Internet:

Starting in 1994, the Church of Scientology began to aggressively defend their copyright on a number of confidential unpublished Church materials that had been stolen and posted to the Internet. These legal cases mark the first time that copyright law was applied to the new digital frontier of the Internet and helped evolve precedents that now safeguard the rights of artists, software developers, businesses and all others on this medium.

The use of copyright law by religious organizations is not new. In fact, the widely distributed Gideon Bible contains the following preface to its Revised Standard Version:

"Because of unhappy experience with unauthorized publication in the two decades between 1881 and 1901, which tampered with the text of the English Revised Version in the supposed interest of the American public, the American Standard Version was copyrighted, to protect the text from unauthorized changes."

Legal precedents in application of copyright law to religious materials have been set already by cases brought forward involving the Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists and Church of Christ, Scientist. As a result, courts in the United States fully recognize that religious use of copyright law is totally appropriate for safeguarding religious doctrine.

For example, in a 1986 decision the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a case involving the First Church of Christ, Scientist, commented that:

"religious works are eligible for protection under general copyright laws, and for decades Science and Health [the central theological text of the Christian Science faith] was unproblematically the beneficiary of that security, as more than thirty editions and translations of the Bible currently are."

Consequently the Church of Scientology in applying copyright protection to its scriptures on the Internet was forwarding an already well-applied tradition of religion to use secular laws to maintain the purity of its religious doctrine and materials.

The unpublished Church of Scientology materials that had been posted to the Internet were advanced works that had been stolen from a Scientology church in Denmark. Although the culprit was arrested and convicted of the crime, the materials had been copied and sent into the United States. Altered versions of the materials then made their way onto the Internet and into other court cases in an effort to make these confidential materials public . The Church regards these materials as confidential because they represent advanced levels in the religion for which an individual needs to be spiritual prepared. Such a belief in Scientology is as basic as the resurrection is to Protestants or as important as literal interpretation of the Bible is to Fundamental Christians. It is an inviolable stricture of the faith.

In this regard again the Church of Scientology is no different than other religions. While the vast majority of Scientology scriptures are openly available to anyone, the maintaining of unpublished, confidential scriptures for those initiated in the faith is a well-documented tradition that religious scholars recognize.

Professor Darrol Bryant at the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada has stated that:

"The distinction between 'esoteric knowledge' available only to initiates, and 'exoteric knowledge' available to all, has long been part of the religious life of humankind. The distinction is commonly based on the belief that only those initiated in a particular tradition or having achieved a certain level of spiritual development should have access to the esoteric or higher teachings."

Another scholar, Dr. Lonnie Kliever of Southern Methodist University finds this distinction in other religions including ancient Judaism, early Christianity, some forms of Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and Gnostic groups. Dr. Kliever characterizes the Church of Scientology as having "...a religious duty and legal right..." to keep some of its materials confidential.

Consequently, courts around the world have recognized the Church of Scientology's proprietary interests in protecting their spiritual material from unauthorized release.

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International court cases:

Several cases are highlighted here due to their international ramifications. The following is excerpted a document written by Church of Scientology International personnel for The Religious Movements Homepage Project at the University of Virginia. 1 It contains the full chronology of all of cases.

bulletUSA: Religious Technology Center (RTC) and Bridge Publications, Inc. (BPI) v. Netcom On-Line Communication Services, Inc.
This was the first Internet-related case brought by any of the copyright holders of the Scientology religion – Religious Technology Center, the Scientology organization that holds the trademarks and service marks of the Scientology religion and Bridge Publications, the publisher of L. Ron Hubbard's non-fiction works. In this case, copyrighted works were posted on the Internet in 1994-AUG and then again in 1994-DEC, through a bulletin board service, which accessed the Internet through an access provider, NETCOM On-Line Communication Services, Inc.

When RTC and BPI were not able to obtain the infringer's agreement or the assistance of either the bulletin board system or NETCOM to put a stop to the infringements, suit was filed by RTC and BPI against all three in federal court in San Jose, CA.

In ruling in 1995-NOV, the Court held that an access provider who knows of infringement through its system and takes no action to stop it may also be held liable. NETCOM later settled with RTC and adopted a protocol, which it posted on its web site, for handling all future complaints of copyright infringement.

This precedent, that an access provider can be held liable where it knows of an infringement, but takes no action to stop it, and the protocol that Netcom then adopted in connection with its settlement with RTC led to Congress taking action to incorporate a like provision into federal law. Congress adopted such a provision into the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which was signed into law. It protects copyright owners by requiring that access providers take down infringements on their systems when they are informed of them and establishes the protocol to be used.
bulletNetherlands: Church of Spiritual Technology and Religious Technology Center v. Dataweb, Stichting XS4ALL, et al., Case No. 96/160, Regional Court of the Hague.
This case was brought against multiple Dutch access providers and an infringer, after they acted in concert, along with others, to post certain Church works on web sites in Holland, and refused to remove the materials from those sites.

The trial of this case took place in March 1999. The court's ruling was issued on 1999-JUN-09. They found that the works were copyrighted, and that the posting of them to the web sites constituted copyright infringement. The court ordered that, upon notice that an infringement is on their system, the ISP defendants must remove the infringement or at least make it inaccessible as quickly as possible. In addition, if they do not do so, they were to be penalized for each day on which they fail to do so.

The case was appealed in 2001. In 2005-DEC, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled in favor of the defendants, determining that freedom of speech was more important than copyright in this case. 4
bulletSweden: Religious Technology Center v. Zenon Panoussis, Case No. T 87-866-96, District Court of Stockholm.
This case was brought in 1996-SEP in Stockholm against an individual named Zenon Panoussis, arising from his Internet posting of Church works and placement of such works on web sites. Panoussis had steadfastly refused to remove his infringements, and each attempt to deal with him short of litigation resulted in his escalation of his infringement campaign.

The issue of preliminary relief was heard by the Stockholm District Court. The court issued an "injunction on penalty of fine against Mr. Panoussis prohibiting him from taking action constituting further infringement of RTC's copyright in the unpublished Church works." The case went to trial in 1998-MAY. Panoussis was found liable for copyright infringement of the works in question, for his Internet postings and also for dissemination of hard copies of the works. The plaintiffs were awarded a permanent injunction, as well as costs, damages and fees of up to $160,000.

But that is not all. Before the plaintiffs closed the door on his infringing activities, Panoussis exploited a weakness in Swedish law protecting copyrights. Any materials placed in the files of the Swedish Parliament are automatically considered to be "government" materials, and therefore are publicly available under what is called "the principle of free access to public documents."

This principle of open government files was intended to allow the public to scrutinize the actions of the government. But nobody had foreseen the consequences for private, copyrighted works. Even if a copyrighted work was unpublished, and even if its author had not consented to its dissemination, the mere act of delivering the work to the Swedish parliament made it a "public document." In this way, a law passed to protect citizens' rights could be abused to violate them.

And that is exactly what this individual did. He put stolen copies of unpublished L. Ron Hubbard works in the library of the Swedish parliament -- and announced that fact on the Internet.

First, the Church took steps to ensure the confidentiality of the materials would not be compromised during the time it took to handle the situation. Then the US Trade Representative was briefed that Sweden was not enforcing international law and was opening the door to copyright piracy. When she learned what had happened, the U.S. Trade Representative immediately perceived the danger that this "loophole" in Sweden's law represented for all intellectual property owners. She took immediate action, and placed Sweden on the international watch list for three years in a row. The U.S. made clear they were really serious. Because they also put Sweden on notice that unless dramatic action was taken, they would open an investigation into Sweden at the World Trade Organization.

As a result, the Swedish Prime Minister and his 22 ministers directed that international copyright laws must be applied to protect Scientology materials.

In order to close that loophole permanently, the law itself would need to be changed, in effect, getting the Swedish government to modify their Constitution so that copyrighted works could not become public documents in such a cavalier manner. The Swedish Ministry of Justice was persuaded to draft new legislation.

The government's proposal had to be approved by the Council on Legislation -- a body composed of former and current Supreme Court judges which reviews new laws for constitutional fitness before they go to parliament. The Council wasted no time in recommending that the new law be adopted with all possible speed. And on 2000-FEB-23, the Swedish Parliament passed government bill No. 35, entitled "Copyright and the Principle of Free Access to Public Documents," by an overwhelming majority of 270 to 14. This was a historic change in the Swedish constitution giving full protection to the unpublished, copyrighted works of all artists, writers and other creators of intellectual properties.

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Reference used:

  1. "Briefing Re: The Church of Scientology and the Internet," 2000-JUN-30, at: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/
  2. "XS4ALL," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Scientology > here

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Originally posted: 2006-AUG-15
Latest update: 2008-FEB-02
Main author: Al Buttnor; updates by B,A, Robinson

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