COS Loses FACTnet Court Case [cr-95/9/15]


Sender: "Craig A. Johnson" <•••@••.•••>

Good news on the cyber liberties front from Colorado.

A federal judge cited "the [electronic] free exchange of ideas" as
serving the "public interest," as he ordered the return of computers
and files to FACTnet Tuesday.

Below is the New York Times story on the ruling.




c.1995 N.Y. Times News Service

BOULDER, Colo. - Upholding free speech on the Internet, a federal judge has
ordered the Church of Scientology to return computers and files seized in
Boulder in the last month from two men who used a computer bulletin board to
disseminate information critical of the group.

``The public interest is best served by the free exchange of ideas,'' Judge
John Kane of U.S. District Court said Tuesday in Denver.

In two raids on Aug. 22, federal marshals and Scientology officials seized
hundreds of computer disks belonging to Factnet, an anti-Scientology bulletin
board run by two Boulder men, Lawrence Wollersheim and Robert Penny.

The raids sparked a firestorm of debate on the Internet and demonstrations
across the nation and in this university city outside of Denver. ``Hands off
the Internet'' and ``Scientology Harasses Critics,'' read signs carried by
protesters in Boulder on Saturday.

Counter-protesters at the Boulder County Courthouse carried signs reading,
``Only criminals spread lawlessness on the Internet.''

By ordering the immediate return of all seized materials, Kane appeared to
extend to an Internet bulletin board the same protection newspapers have
against indiscriminate seizure of files and printing presses.

``They certainly do not have the right to seize everything and to fish
around,'' said Shari Steele, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
a group based in San Francisco dedicated to protecting free speech on the

``We have a long history of publication protection,'' she continued. ``There
seems to be this thought that things that are contained on a computer aren't
subject to the same protections. I think the law is catching up.''

Thomas B. Kelley, lawyer for the defendants, said, ``It reaffirms the
proposition that when an information media gains information lawfully, it is
very rare that publication of that information can be enjoined.''

But Helena K. Kobrin, a lawyer for the church, defended the seizures, saying
Wednesday, ``When you have a computer, you don't know what's in there.

``The decision yesterday was a very sad day for intellectual property owners
and a very sad day for the Internet,'' she continued. ``A ruling like this is
going to end up creating more congressional interest in making more rules for
the Internet.''

Last week, the Clinton administration proposed that the copyright law be
changed to make it unlawful to distribute copies of copyrighted work if the
copies are worth more than $5,000.

Stored on about 1,000 computer disks, the Factnet archive constituted the
largest library on Scientology outside of the church's control, Wollersheim
said Wednesday.

After winning control of the archive, church officials hired computer experts
who used words unique to secret Scientology texts to search the files for
copyrighted material. Some material that was not copyrighted was returned
last week, church lawyers said.

``We are treating the files as contaminated,'' said Wollersheim, a former
Scientologist. ``We anticipate we will have to do virus checks, to look for
altered, planted documents.''

But no additional files were returned Wednesday as Scientology lawyers
appealed the court order. The church is fighting similar court cases in
Arlington, Va., and in San Jose, Calif.

``In many respects, the judge's decision is wrong, both on the law and the
facts, which shows he bought the bogus and dishonest defense of copyright
criminals hook, line and sinker,'' the church said Tuesday in a written

In addition to appealing the order that the material be returned, Mrs.
Kobrin, the church's lawyer, said she planned to continue with the suit
against the two Boulder men on charges of copyright infringement and trade
secret violations. Simply downloading a copyrighted file into a computer disk
can constitute infringement, Mrs. Kobrin said.

The church, which was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, makes most of its
money from selling its spiritual teachings to followers. The church claims
eight million followers.

Last week on a visit to Denver, Hever Jentzsch, the church's international
president, announced that a rapidly growing local membership has made it
possible for the church to buy a new headquarters in Boulder more than twice
the size of its current building.

Wollersheim denies posting any copyrighted material on the Internet. But he
said that one bulletin board, alt.religion.scientology, has become ``one of
the busiest news groups on the Net.''

``I've gotten thousands of messages, phone calls, E-mail,'' he said. ``We
have three to four volunteers working on it, but we can't keep up.''

 Posted by --  Andrew Oram  --  •••@••.••• --  Cambridge, Mass., USA
                 Moderator:  CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)

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