Scientology Critic Loses Court Bid
Religion: Judge declines to lift order barring ex-member from
transmitting copyrighted church texts via the Internet.
Los Angeles Times
Wednesday February 22, 1995
By Alan Abrahamson
SAN JOSE - A Glendale critic of the Church of Scientology lost a
round in federal court Tuesday as a judge declined to lift an
order barring him from transmitting copyrighted religious texts
onto the Internet.
The order remains in effect against Dennis L. Erlich, a former
But U. S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte rejected arguments by
church lawyers and lifted restraining orders against a North
Hollywood computer bulletin board operator and a San Jose-based
Internet access supplier, who provide the electronic paths onto
the global computer network for Erlich.
In the potentially precedent-setting case, Whyte agreed it would
be a "practical impossibility" for either Netcom On-Line
Communication Services Inc. or Tom Klemestrud to "do any kind of
censoring or checking of what's put through their services." Each
had been briefly ordered to ensure that no data they circulated
infringed on the church's copyright--a task that their lawyers
said would be virtually impossible.
Erlich, Whyte stressed in court, is not restrained from
commenting on or even criticizing the church on the Internet. The
order applies only to copyrighted materials.
"I would be careful," Whyte advised Erlich.
Left unclear, however, are the issues that prompted both the
court case and an unusual search and seizure last week by
Scientology officials at Erlich's home--whether Erlich did,
indeed, transmit religious texts onto the Internet, and why those
materials are so sensitive.
Erlich, a former Scientology minister who split from the church
in 1982, stressed Tuesday that he believed he had done nothing
wrong. "I'm not going to back down," he vowed in court.
Warren L. McShane, president of Religious Technology Center,
holder of the "Dianetics" and "Scientology" trademarks, insisted
after the hearing that Erlich had transmitted, or "posted," files
onto the Internet "out of spite."
McShane said the church had every right to aggressively protect
its texts. And, he said, certain advanced texts could "do . . .
harm" if studied by people not yet deemed ready for them by
"It's like jumping in an 18-wheeler and not knowing how to
drive," McShane said, adding, "Spiritually, a person has to be
ready for it."
On Feb. 13, McShane and others searched Erlich's house and seized
hundreds of computer files and discs. Such a search is authorized
by federal copyright laws.
At the same time, lawyers served court papers disclosing that the
church was suing Erlich, Klemestrud and Netcom for copyright
infringement. The suit asked for a permanent injunction and
$120,000 in damages per infringement.
According to court documents, Erlich, 48, had been transmitting,
or "posting," church material onto the Internet's
"alt.religion.scientology" news group since August.
From his computer, it went to Klemestrud's BBS, or bulletin board
system. From there, it went onto the Internet via computer
facilities run by Netcom.
Erlich freely concedes that he posted materials about the church
on the Internet. But he contends he violated no copyright. He
also claims he ministers to his own spiritual flock via an
electronic pulpit--and is guaranteed the freedom to practice his
In court documents filed Tuesday, church lawyers countered with a
list of about 200 items--from computer discs to books--taken from
Erlich that represented alleged copyright infringement.
Whyte said it was unclear which of the 200 items represented
unpublished church secrets, and which were published, but
copyrighted, church materials. It was also not evident, he said,
whether Erlich had posted documents word-for-word or had posted
Lawyers for Klemestrud and Netcom said the list illustrated the
burden that would result if their clients had to monitor Internet
postings in a search for church texts.
Church officials had a week to sift through what was taken from
Erlich and had not yet adequately categorized it, said Randy
Rice, a Netcom lawyer. The church, however, was asking operators
untrained in church doctrine to identify and block copyrighted
church doctrine "in the blink of an eye," as it hurtled toward
the Internet, Richard Hornung, Klemestrud's attorney, said.
Whyte he will decide after March 3 whether to make the order
against Erlich, issued Feb. 10, permanent.