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Internet Provider Settles Scientology Copyright Suit

August 5, 1996 GMT

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ The Church of Scientology has settled a copyright dispute with an Internet provider that many in the computer industry worried would restrict freedom of expression in cyberspace.

The church and Netcom On-Line Communication Services, one of the nation’s largest Internet access providers, agreed not to discuss details of the out-of-court settlement reached Friday in San Jose.

They did say, however, that the online service has posted a warning to its subscribers telling them not to use Netcom to ``unlawfully distribute the intellectual property of others.″

The dispute arose when a former Scientology minister who became a vocal church critic posted some of the church’s writings on private bulletin board that Netcom arranged for its subscribers to have access to.

One posting was a 17-page transcript of confidential lectures by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The Religious Technology Center, a wing of the church, claimed copyright infringement, saying many of its literary works are trade secrets.

The church notified Netcom and the bulletin board service operator about the alleged infringement. The operator, Tom Klemesrud of North Hollywood, said today that he responded by asking for proof of the copyright but the church refused to provide it.

The church filed suit in February 1995 against Netcom, the bulletin board operator and the user who posted the writings, 48-year-old Dennis Erlich of Glendale. It got an order allowing its representatives to raid Erlich’s home and seize Hubbard’s copyrighted work.

Netcom and Klemesrud argued that they are only conduits for material and are in no position to screen all messages.

In November 1995, a federal judge ruled that Netcom and Klemesrud were not directly responsible for the copyright infringement. But the judge also said Netcom and Klemesrud may have contributed to the infringement by failing to remove the documents once they were informed of them.

The Church of Scientology, which believes that man’s spiritual problems stem from an intergalactic holocaust 75 million years ago, has other lawsuits pending against Klemesrud and Erlich.