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As many of you may know, the Church of Scientology (CoS), represented by the
Religious Technology Center (RTC), whose primary function is to defend their
copyrights and trade secrets, performed their third raid/seizure today
against an Internet user for alleged copyright infringement.  The prior
two were against Arnie Lerma last week, and Dennis Erlich back in February.

This raid was against FactNet, an organization dedicated to public awareness
of various groups it labels as 'cults', including the Church of Scientology,
and one of its leaders, Larry Wollersheim.

[It is interesting to note that CoS owes $4 million to Larry Wollersheim based
on an award by the courts, and affirmed by the Supreme Court.  CoS has
refused for whatever reason to pay this judgement, and did very questionable
moving of assets out of California to avoid paying.  Wollersheim has currently
deposed the leader of CoS, David Miscavige, to ask him in court what happened
to the assets of the California branch of CoS.  Mr. Miscavige went into hiding
over a year ago and so has not yet been served with this subpoena.]

This raid and seizure is technically allowed under current U.S. civil copyright
law when certain conditions are met.  Congress originally allowed such raids
to deal with copyright infringement involving bootleg material, where seizing
the equipment used to produce the bootleg materials would effectively halt
production until a court could assess the claims of the copyright holder.  I
am not sure if the Constitutionality of this law has been ruled upon, but in
my opinion it oversteps the bounds of the intent of the U.S. Constitution
regarding the bounds of search and seizure.

Congress passed this law allowing seizure (in 1976) well before the advent
of computer networks.  The rationale that CoS used in convincing a judge to
issue a Writ of Seizure is that seizing the computer equipment will halt the
continued duplication of the copyright material, allegedly in violation of the
rights of the copyright owner.  This rationale does not hold any water when
considering the Internet.  Once the material is electronically disseminated
on the Internet, seizing the computer equipment used to disseminate the
material, as well as copies of the material itself, serves no useful purpose
to stop the continued dissemination of the material.  For example, the
perpetrator of the alleged copyright infringement could, if they want to,
simply purchase/rent/use a computer with Internet access, copy the material
from another site on the Internet (which observation shows exists all around
the world regarding the CoS materials), and redisseminate it as before.  The
only effective remedy is a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and a lawsuit
against the individual ALLEGED to have infringed on the copyrighted material
in excess of Fair Use.

Thus, these three raids by CoS were clearly unnecessary.  Furthermore,
regarding civil liberties, they are even more troubling.  In all three raids,
the entire computer, related equipment and tapes were seized by CoS for their
erasure of the alleged copyright materials, but without ANY court oversight
which would filter out data which has no relevance to the matter at hand and
which is protected by the right to privacy and other protections.  There may
also be further protection under the Electronic Privacy Act (or whatever it
is called).  A lot of private data from many people, not related to the
alleged copyright infringements, may have been compromised.

Furthermore, these raids serve to stifle Free Speech on the Internet.  In
essence, CoS is saying to the Internet community:

     "If WE feel you are disseminating our copyrighted materials in excess of
      Fair Use (and we will define what Fair Use is), then we will get a Writ
      of Seizure allowed under U.S. copyright law and take away your computer
      BEFORE the court decides on whether you exceeded Fair Use."

And if much later the court determines that the dissemination was done under
Fair Use, then there is no "effective" and "practical" remedy other than
filing a laborious and expensive countersuit, which could drag on for years,
to the detriment of the individual originally accused of copyright
infringement.  CoS knows this, and thus they really don't fear the
consequences if they overstep their bounds in this matter.

And who wants CoS to plaster the Internet and the newsmedia with their
propaganda stating that "Federal Marshalls Seized the Computer of John Doe"?
We all know that the general public may see John Doe as some criminal of
the first order because Federal Marshalls were called in to handle the matter.
This also serves to stifle Free Speech.

Thus, we must call upon Congress and the courts to fix this "loophole"
allowing these unnecessary and, in my opinion, unconstitutional raids/seizures
of computer equipment for alleged *civil* copyright infringement in excess of
Fair Use.  This "loophole" is a clear threat to Freedom of Speech.

I call upon electronic freedom activist organizations, such as EFF, and more
traditional civil liberties organizations, such as the ACLU, to do something
to stop these raids.  I think asking a Federal judge to put a *temporary*
halt on all such raids pending Federal court review on necessity and
constitutional grounds.  In addition, we should call on Congress to amend the
copyright laws to take into the special aspect of computer networks so as to
not allow the trampling of civil liberties that we've seen with the barbaric
CoS raids.

If you agree with me, do forward this to your Congressperson, to anybody you
know involved in civil liberties issues, religious leaders, etc.  Become
aware and concerned.  If you live in the U.S., you could be the next person
raided just for exercising your right to Free Speech.

Thank you for listening.

Jon Noring

For more information on the Scientology versus Internet "war", check out
both alt.religion.scientology on Usenet, and the following Web site, which
has links to nearly all Web pages devoted to the Scientology issue:


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