Fun_People Archive
22 Feb
Scientology places legal roadblock on info highway

Date: Wed, 22 Feb 95 16:56:41 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: Scientology places legal roadblock on info highway

Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Wendell Craig Baker <>

The following editorial appeared in the Glendale News-Press on
Feb. 21, 1994. Rights to post on the Internet granted by the News-Press:

Scientology places legal roadblock on info highway

The Church of Scientology's latest legal attack has led the
lawsuit-happy religious group onto the information superhighway
in another attempt to silence its critics.

This time the church is focusing on Glendale resident Dennis
Erlich, a former Scientology minister who is now a vocal critic
of the movement begun in the 1950s by science-fiction author L.
Ron Hubbard with the book ``Dianetics.''

Many of the church's critics have told the News-Press that they
are the subjects of continued harassment campaigns by
Scientologists. Beginning with threats to cease the free-speech
activities frowned on by the church, persistence on the critics'
part is often met with a lawsuit.

In many cases, the church doesn't aim to win the suits so much as
to continue the legal action until the defendant acquiesces due
to financial exhaustion, critics say.

This most recent case has followed the same pattern, this time
with a futuristic twist because all of the illegal activity
alleged in the lawsuit filed by Scientology organizations has
happened on the Internet.

Briefly, the church has accused Erlich of posting copyrighted
Scientology material on the Internet. The attorneys filing the
suit are treating it like a standard copyright infringement case,
and used that portion of the law to justify a raid on Erlich's
home during which they copied and deleted hundreds of files from
his home computer and seized a number of computer floppy disks
and Scientology books.

While the lawsuit focuses on the premise that Erlich rebroadcast
via computer the copyrighted texts of Scientology, members of the
religion are really more worried about his comments on the texts
as they appear in the Internet's USENET newsgroup
 [b]alt.religion.scientology. [l]

A vast ocean of free-speech and free-flowing ideas that reaches
worldwide, the Internet offers anyone the ability to spread their
direct and unfiltered opinion to tens or hundreds of thousands of
people interested in similar topics. As a primarily
``do-it-yourself'' medium, USENET, a giant and virtual global
bulletin board of information and ideas ranges across the
ideologic spectrum from reasoned dialog to outright hyperbole.
That's what you get from freedom to the nth degree.

Erlich thinks that, as an ordained minister (though
``excommunicated'' from Scientology), he has the right to convey
his ideas on the religion to anybody who'll listen. Ironically,
since church members have tried to throw him off of the Internet
and have even attempted to electronically remove
alt.religion.scientology entirely, interest and readership of the
newsgroup has grown. Some estimate that more than 100,000 read
the messages.

Furthermore, Erlich claims the material which the church says is
copyrighted has already been posted on the Internet. And he
doesn't think that something seen as religious scripture can be
so controlled.

Scientologists and their attorneys disagree and have taken the
battle to the Federal District Court in San Jose. Erlich, and by
extension his Internet provider, Van Nuys computer bulletin board
owner Tom Klemesrud and also by extension his Internet provider,
Netcom On-Line Services, will defend their position in court
beginning with a hearing today.

Whatever the outcome, this case has the potential to set a
precedent in copyright law, freedom of speech and how discussion
is conducted in cyberspace.

Perhaps the Scientologists have a chance to win, but a victory
for them means only one thing -- they will have succeeded not in
protecting their copyrighted information, but in silencing those
who attempt to criticize the church's methods and practices.

[=] © 1995 Peter Langston []