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Judge Finds Copyright Protection On The Internet

January 20, 1996

ALEXANDRIA (AP) _ A critic of the church of Scientology violated copyright law when he posted sacred church texts on the Internet, a federal judge ruled Friday.

In a case closely watched by computer users, the church sued Arnaldo Lerma for placing the documents on the Internet as part of his long-running criticism of church practices he says are abusive.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema put aside questions of whether the church harassed the critic or abused a search warrant she granted and narrowed the complex case to a few issues of copyright law.

Brinkema said she would take up the question of damages and attorney’s fees later. She told the church not to expect much money.

Lerma’s lawyer, Thomas Kelley, argued that the case parallels a related lawsuit the church filed against The Washington Post.

Brinkema dismissed that lawsuit, saying the church had no grounds to block the newspaper from publishing excerpts from secret religious texts. But Brinkema said that while the Post’s use of a few selected quotes from the document was justifiable, Lerma’s wholesale copying was not.

The church argued that trade secrecy and copyright laws prohibit unauthorized dissemination of secret church texts. It said the texts are confidential instructional materials for advanced members.

Scientology is a religion founded 41 years ago by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. It requires initiates to undergo teaching and counseling that can cost thousands of dollars.

Lerma has said he joined the church in 1963 and was forced out in 1978 after pursuing a romance with one of Hubbard’s daughters.

In September 1995, Lerma began placing documents describing alleged wrongdoing by the group _ and some of its most sacred texts _ on international computer bulletin boards. The documents became a hot topic of conversation on the Internet and the America Online service.

The documents Lerma distributed include hair-raising descriptions of abuse by former Scientology officials, claims that Scientology brainwashes and defrauds members and exacts reprisals against critics, and details of how people can achieve the theological growth that Scientologists say transforms people into near-gods.