About the Church of Scientology®
Internet and copyright conflicts
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copyright on a number of confidential unpublished Church materials that had been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
"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
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
"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
The unpublished Church of Scientology materials that had been posted to the Internet were advanced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
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
Professor Darrol Bryant at the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada has stated
"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
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.
|USA: 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
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.
|Netherlands: 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.
|Sweden: 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
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.
- "Briefing Re: The Church of Scientology and the Internet,"
- "XS4ALL," Wikipedia, at:
Originally posted: 2006-AUG-15
Latest update: 2008-FEB-02
Main author: Al Buttnor; updates by B,A, Robinson