Scientology Critic Loses Court Bid Religion: Judge declines to lift order barring ex-membe

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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 church member. 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 church officials. "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 own religion. 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 only portions. * 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. -------------------

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