Scientology Loses Internet case in Netherlands

Three Scientology corporations lost a lawsuit against 23 defendants in the Netherlands this month, and must pay thousands of dollars in costs to several of the defendants. Of particular concern to Scientology is the court's finding that many documents which Scientology claims to be "sacred scripture" are not protected by copyright in that country and may be freely posted on the Internet.

The suit was originally filed several months ago, withdrawn, and then refiled again. It was brought by the Church of Spiritual Technology and the Religious Technology Center, both American corporations, and New Era Publications International, a Danish corporation. All are Scientology organizations.

The 23 defendants included some Internet service providers, individuals affiliated with them and a writer, Karin Spaink. The access providers had permitted subscribers posting the disputed material to access the Internet. Spaink had posted the disputed material on her "homepage" on the Internet. A homepage is a site on the Internet where a collection of information is posted for other users to access and copy if they wish.

Scientology claimed that the access providers violated copyright law by not denying access to the Internet to customers they claimed were posting the copyrighted material, not making the customers remove the allegedly copyrighted material, and not providing Scientology with the names and address of third parties that had posted the documents through their computer systems.

The documents at issue were confidential Operating Thetan (OT) levels I through VII, and a published confidential work, "Ability." Much of this material had been made public when it was placed in a court file in the United States as exhibits to an affidavit, and had subsequently been widely circulated on the Internet before it was posted in the Netherlands.

The access providers claimed that they only provide the infrastructure for communication between users and cannot be responsible for the actual content for the messages, any more than a telecommications company can edit fax or phone traffic over its lines. Nor, they maintained, did they make an profit from infringing copyrighted material.

Spaink maintained that once she received evidence that OT II and III were copyrighted she removed them from her homepage, but that she never received such evidence from plaintiffs concerning the other materials. Additionally she insisted that the OT material had been published legally in a judicial procedure and that the Ability work had been published legally in a book. Spaink claimed she had quoted only portions of the full text of the materials and included commentary, and that copyright law on fair use and her own right to free speech permitted such use.

The court found that Scientology held the copyright to OT II and III and the Ability work, but they had not proved copyright to OT IV through VII. Spaink did not violate copyright to those documents, and the context in which she used any of the copyrighted material was permitted under fair use.

The court also found that inclusion of the material in the court record in the United States constituted publication so Spaink's republication did not violate trademark law.In regard to the access providers, the court determined that they could "exert no influence over, nor have knowledge of, what the persons who gain access to Internet through them, will supply." They could not be responsible for wrongful acts of users in this particular case because Scientology had not demonstrated to the access providers that violations of copyright were occurring.

Scientology must pay approximately $34,000 for costs of the suits to all the defendants represented in court. Spaink expressed skepticism that Scientology would pay its debt, stating, "Even the record costs of the previous lawsuit, in December 1995 (which they are legally requested to pay because they were the ones to start and to drop the suit) have not been paid as of now, even though Scientology's lawyers vouched for it. Because the plaintiffs are all foreign entities, it may be difficult for us to get them to pay this debt."

(From verdict in summary judgment in case number 96/160 by the President of the District Court of the Hague, March 12, 1996 and Internet comments by Karin Spaink.)

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