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We of the Church believe.... That all men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others.
--L. Ron Hubbard, from "The Creed of the Church of Scientology"
What will happen to the traditional notions of intellectual property and copyright in the face of a technology that can create infinite numbers of copies and spray them freely across the world in seconds? This question has already been raised, and it worries many people, from small-time freelance writers to major publishers and software companies, all of whom make their living by selling the intangible products of the human mind.
You might have thought that when the laws defining the boundaries between free speech and copyright infringements, or fair use and trademark violation, were finally tested in the courts against the existence of cyberspace, it would be by a large software company. Instead, the protagonist was the controversial organization known as the Church of Scientology (CoS). The story is important for two reasons. First, there had never been a case like it, where the boundaries between real life and cyberspace had been stress-tested so fiercely and for so long. Second, it began to define exactly how far intellectual property laws can be made to apply in cyberspace.
Scientology is the brainchild of the pulp science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and grew out of the theories about human psychology that Hubbard first published in the form of a long article in Astounding Science Fiction and then in a best-selling book, Dianetics, originally published in 1950 and still in print. I first heard of it at Cornell in the early 1970s, when Scientology, like many other belief organizations such as TM and est, recruited on college campuses; the science fiction fans from whom I heard about it had quite a skeptical view, as does much of the SF world even now. That fact and the heavy presence of science fiction fandom on the Net was what made it seem obvious, when I first saw alt. religion.scientology on the list of newsgroups in early 1994, that this was not going to be a quiet, orderly place. In fact, alt.religion.scientology is one of the most contentious, roisterous, fiery, and vicious newsgroups ever, and the story of what's come to be known as Scientology versus the Net is the most extraordinary and bitter of any online hazing experience a newly wired organization has ever had.
We're talking police raids and lawsuits here, in places as far-flung as Finland (Julf Helsingius and his anon.penet.fi anonymous remailer), Sweden (Zenon Panoussis), the Netherlands (the service provider xs4all and the writer Karin Spaink), Virginia (Arnaldo Lerma), Colorado (Bob Penny and Lawrence Wollersheim), and California (Dennis Erlich, Tom Klemesrud, Grady Ward, and Keith Henson). One observer on the WELL called it "a flame war with real guns."
We're also talking about the mass distribution of documents previously kept as closely guarded by the CoS as the inner workings of classified encryption algorithms have been by the National Security Agency (see chapter 5). They are, in fact, the heart of Scientology's teachings, written by L. Ron Hubbard and reserved for those who have passed through the requisite lower levels and many hours of "auditing," which from the sounds of it is a sort of confessional therapy session aided by an "E-meter," a device that is claimed to register emotional and psychological blockages much the way a polygraph detects lies. Hubbard claimed that exposure to these secrets could harm or even kill those who were unprepared. A separate organization, the Religious Technology Center (RTC), was created in May 1982 to guard the intellectual property rights in these documents, along with the many registered Scientology trademarks. Critics allege that the secrecy has more to do with financial gain; the CoS admits on its home pages that this is also a consideration, but stresses that it's a minor one.
The mass media coverage of the case has stressed the distribution of these documents and the CoS's attempts to get them back, or at least taken out of circulation. What many people don't realize is that the hostilities between the Net and the CoS go beyond just those documents and started much earlier than the day the first suit was filed. It's also important to understand that most people on
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