From braintree!news.sprintlink.net!howland.reston.ans.net!EU.net!sun4nl!xs4all!utopia.hacktic.nl!not-for-mail Mon Oct 16 11:34:45 1995
From: nobody@REPLAY.COM (Anonymous)
Subject: Newsday Article
Date: 12 Oct 1995 08:30:12 +0100
Organization: RePLaY aND CoMPaNY UnLimited
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
XComm: Replay may or may not approve of the content of this posting
XComm: Report misuse of this automated service to
THE NET: COPYRIGHT OR "FREE PRESS"
by Thomas Maier
October 10, 1995
Arnaldo Lerma believes the Internet newsgroups are like the Liberty Trees
of the American Revolution - a place where citizens can post anything of
interest. Suffice to say, the church of scientology doesn't quite agree.
Earlier this year, Lerma sent sacred religious scriptures from the church
out over the Net. Lerma quickly heard back from those who, like himself,
are worried about what they say are scientology's cult-like methods.
"l got 160 pieces Of E-mail saying they admired my courage and two pieces
of mail from angry scientologists," recalls Lerma, a 44-year-old
audio-video technician in Arlington, Va. But the strongest response came
from the church of scientology itself. claiming that all of the material
is copyrighted, and thus protected from being reproduced in other
formats. The church filed a lawsuit in August against Lerma, convincing
a federal judge to authorize a search of his home.
The church, which was founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ran
Hubbard, says it wants to prevent further spread on the Internet of its
privately held sacred texts - texts which members are charged at least
$20,000 to see. Lerma's computer was confiscated and 58 disks siezed by
The ongoing case against Lerma is one of three federal lawsuits filed in
the past year by the church against former members who placed portions
of its scripture on the Internet - disputes which may hold long-term
implications for the future of the Internet, according to legal experts.
At the heart of the lawsuits, they say, is a struggle over what can be
freely transmitted over the thousands of newsgroups and several major
Online services of the Internet. Basically, in these and related cases,
it comes down to whether Internet providers should be treated like the
telephone company - as mere transmitters of information - Or as
publishers who can be held legally liable for what goes out on their
Free speech advocates say the Scientology lawsuits are designed to censor
discussion on the Internet, Opening up "netizens" to costly lawsuits
over content, and taking away much of its unfettered appeal. scientology
officials, meanwhile, say the former members they've sued have
improperly taken their secrets and are intent on ruining their
"The threat of litigation is enough ta shut up a lot of people," argues
Shari Steele, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a
civil liberties group specislizing in Internet issues. She expressed
strong concern that the companies which provided Internet bulletin
boards in two of the cases have been named as defendants for the alleged
If the church's lawsuits prevail, Steele said, future providers of
bulletin boards and newsgroups on the World-Wide Web, as well as the
companies running such subscriber services as Prodigy, CompuServe, and
America Online might be forced to monitor or restrict information simply
because they fear being sued.
"If system operators are liable for the content of the postings, it will
lead ta censorship," says Steele. "It would change the whole idea of how
the Internet develops.- it's that important."
A church spokesman, however, argues that such restrictions may not be
such a bad idea. "These documents are religious scriptures and we hold
them very dear," says Leisa Goodman, a spokeswoman for the church. "The
lawless on the Internet feel the law doesn't apply to them in
In court papers, scientology lawyers say the teachings of its founder are
protected by copyright law and cannot be used witbout the church's
permission. The documents put on the Internet deal with a number of
secrets, including advancement within the church, how to discredit
critics, and how to communicate with plants, trees and zoo animals.
scientologists believe that technology can expand the mind and help solve
human problems, as Hubbard's much-publicized writings outline. Those who
join the church pay substantial sums of money and undergo higher-level
spiritual training to gain access to the church's private unpublished
To counter the anti-scientology chatter on the Internet, the church has
surfed its own "home page" on the World Wide Web. Additionally, a great
dear of online discussion on both sides of the legal battle in
cyberspace can be found in a newsgraup on the Internet called
alt.religion.scientology (ARS). You can find an archive of documents
about the dispute at this address
"A criminal clique of apostates came by the materials unlawfully,"
scientology officials say on their electronic posting
(http://www.theta.com/goodman/.) "If they were allowed ta succeed, their
aim would be the destruction of the spiritual future for every
scientologist - and indeed every man, woman, and child - on earth."
Although none of the cases are expected to be settled soon, recent
preliminary rulings have limited what scientology's lawyers can do with
their seizures of computer equipment.
Two weeks ago in the Lerma case, for instance, U.S. District Judge Leonie
M. Brinkema ruled that the search of Lerma's home by scientology's
lawyers went far beyond what she had okayed. The judge said she meant
only for searches under keywords such as "scientology" and "Hubbard."
But her decision that much of Lerma's computer materials be returned is
being appealed, still preventing Lerma from getting his disks back.
Likewise, the federal judge in a case brought against Dennis Erlich, a
California man who was once a high-level church official, decided a week
ago that his computer disks must be retuned and that he be allowed to
transmit information from scientology's teachings under "fair use"
provisions. (This would allow him ta quote portions of the text in his
commentary, but not the entire text, says Erlich's lawyer, Carla
But Erlich, who has since lost his job as a photo lab manager, says the
seizure of more than 360 computer disks and 29 boaks from his home
already has done enough damage to his life.
"Potentially they copied all my personal correspondence, mailing lists,
financial records and personal notes," Erlich complained on the
Internet. "Anyone who has sent me anything in confidence must assume
that it has been compromised.
"My computers and files were raided." said Erlich, 48, who was a church
member from 1968 until 1982. "It was like being raped."
Both Erlich and Lerma have publicly labeled scientology as a "cult" that
depends heavily on mind-control and other questionable methods.
The church of scientology is known for not taking such criticism lightly.
It filed a $416 million libel lawsuit against Time magazine for a 1991
article entitled "scientology: The Cult of Greed." The church also
recently filed a lawsuit sgainst The Washington Post for allegedly
quoting from the private religious texts in a story about the Lerma
Goodman, whose "home page" on the Web is adorned with her photo, says
it's designed to answer some of the criticisms and provide basic
information about scientology. Each day, she says, the scientology page
averages 600 "hits" - that is, Internet browsers looking in. Goodman
calls the ARS newsgroup a "hate forum" for opponents of scientology.
"The Internet certainly is not immune to the treachery of a small but
insidious number of people who have furnished the Internet with a dark
side: privacy invasions, lawlessness, intolerance and theft," the church
warns on its home page. "The Internet offers them a new and unique way
to hide from discovery and work their frauds and subterfuges from the
safe harbor of anonymity."
Aside from scientologists, many other groups are concerned with the
wide-open aspect of the Net, and issues of copyright, libel, defamation
and trade-secret violations. The Iegal rights surrounding what goes out
on a computer bulletin board or Web site are still far from clear.
In a case in June, State supreme court Justice Stuart Ain in Mineola
ruled that Prodigy could be held liable for allegedly defamatory
statements on Prodigy made against Stratton Oakmont Inc. The judge said
the computer bulletin board run by Prodigy could be considered as a
"publisher" of the posting, rather than just a distributor.
In the past two years, courts have tended to favor free speech oh the
Internet. For instance, a federal judge in New York ruled in 1994 that
CompuServe, one of the best known online services, could not be sued for
alleged defamitory statements made on one of its forums called
"Rumorville, USA" aimed at journalists.
Last year in Florida, Playboy Enterprises won a lawsuit against a local
bulletin board service operator for unauthorized use of Playboy's
copyrighted photos. The local operator, George Frena, said he used only
a small portion of photos to promote his bulletin board and it was
covered under the "fair use" provision of existing law.
But the judge ruled Frena used the photos for a money-making enterprise
rather than any joumalistic purpose. "The court is not implying that
people do not read the articles in [Playboy]," the judge ruled.
"However, a major factor in [Playboy's] success is the photographs."
The overheated reaction to the dispute has overwhelmed the once-quiet
alt.religion.scientology newsgroup on the Internet, according to those
who follow it. Some of the discussion reflects the wild-and-wooly
conversations of the Net at its best and worst.
"We must NEVER let the Church penetrate the ARS Central Committee," warns
one anonymous writer, a self-described former church member.
scientology's penchant for secrecy was compared with the Vatican in
another online dialogue among several Net users, including two named
Maureen and Henry:
Maureen: The Vatican was ajraid that Galileo's ideas would harm believers
who heard them. By the way, within the last year the Vatican apologized
to Galileo. Will scientology be apologizing to Arnie Lerma and Dennis
Erlich in the year 2500?
Henry: If the Vatican has secret papers, unlike sciento1ogy, they're not
so pathetically mindless and stupid that tlley get spammed all over the
net. Only losers get their secret papers spammed all over the net...
Scott Goehring, who created the ARS newsgroup in 1991 as a Purdue
University undergraduate (partly to show his girlfriend what
scientologists are like), says he's amazed at the ferocity of the
"The volume in the past month is more than we had in the whole first
year," says Goehring, 26, who now lives in Bloomington, Ind. "I don't
read everything, but I looked at it daily. If I don't, I feel that I've