SCIENTOLOGY LOSES ROUND IN ON-LINE CASE By David Bank Mercury News Staff Writer A federal

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SCIENTOLOGY LOSES ROUND IN ON-LINE CASE By David Bank Mercury News Staff Writer A federal judge in San Jose declined Tuesday to hold an Internet service provider and a computer bulletin board operator responsible for electronic messages posted by one of their customers, setting back an effort by officials of the Church of Scientology to silence one of their most vocal critics. The attempt by church officials to require Netcom On-Line Communication Services and a Los Angeles bulletin board operator to screen messages had alarmed cyberspace civil liberties advocates, who feared it would chill the freewheeling discussion common on the Internet's discussion forums. ``Any tactics that are designed to scare providers from carrying information are private censorship, and that is just intolerable on the networks,'' said Shari Steele, director of legal services at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Washington advocacy group. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte did extend a restraining order against Dennis Erlich, a Glendale writer and former Scientology minister who turned against the church after he left in 1982. Erlich is a frequent contributor to the discussion forum alt.religion.scientology on the Internet and has posted portions of church publications and documents. Participants in the discussion forum have accused church supporters of attempting to delete messages critical of the church and even to have the entire forum removed from the Internet. Church officials say they only are seeking to protect copyright material and trade secrets. In a separate action, church officials recently worked with Finnish police to obtain the name of a contributor to the Internet discussion who had posted his messages anonymously through a site in Finland that is commonly used by those who wish to keep their identity secret. Church officials said the individual had stolen church documents. In its lawsuit against Erlich, Netcom and Tom Klemesrud, the bulletin board operator, officials of two organizations affiliated with the church claim that Erlich has copied copyright material and revealed trade secrets. Some of the teachings could be damaging to those not yet ready to receive them, said Warren McShane, president of the Religious Technology Center, which holds the rights to the works of Scientology's late founder, L. Ron Hubbard. ``If people want to read Mr. Hubbard, they should go and get his authorized work,'' McShane said outside the courtroom. ``We asked (Erlich) politely to stop (distributing the material), and he refused. We'll do what we have to do to stop it.'' Last week, McShane and an attorney, armed with a court order from Whyte and backed by off-duty police officers, raided Erlich's Glendale home and seized six boxes of computer diskettes and 29 books and made backup copies of the hard disks from Erlich's computers. McShane said five people worked for four days to catalog the material. Whyte asked attorneys for the church to detail the alleged copyright and trade secret violations by Friday. He said he would decide what to do with the seized items after Erlich responded on March 3. ``My concern is that some of this material is stuff that should not have been seized,'' he said. Erlich, 48, said he had collected the material in preparation for his own lawsuit against the church. He said he had republished the material on the Internet only for commentary, satire and advocacy -- activities he said were protected by the Constitution. ``I probed and prodded until they came out and showed what they thought of free speech,'' said Erlich, who appeared in court without an attorney. ``There's no way I can defend myself now because they deleted material from my hard disk that I would have used to prove that I didn't do what they said I did.'' Attorneys for the two church-affiliated organizations said computer consultants had developed software to allow Netcom to monitor Erlich's activities on-line and bar postings that might compromise copyrights or trade secrets. ``They have been put on notice from Day 1,'' McShane said. ``They have the responsibility to make sure nobody's rights are violated.'' The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Steele disagreed. ``That is not Netcom's responsibility,'' she said. ``They are not policemen. They are service providers. That makes me very uncomfortable.'' Mercury Center INSTRUCTIONS ON PAGE 2A --Does the Church of Scientology have a valid complaint? Voice your opinion. Use keyword: MC Talk, select Browse Boards, then Tech Talk, then Internet / Online Services folder. Or, choose Letters for Publication in the scrolling window. Published 2/22/95 in the San Jose Mercury News. _________________________________________________________________ This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the originating newspaper or wire service. Mercury Center Web is a service of the San Jose Mercury News. For more information, write to


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