LDS Suit Nearing Settlement

Salt Lake Tribune/December 1, 2000
By Ray Rivera

Two longtime LDS Church critics who posted part of a handbook for Mormon clergy on the Internet agreed to a settlement offer Thursday in a federal copyright lawsuit filed against them.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, appeared hesitant to sign off on the deal, even though church attorneys drafted the offer. "The church has not yet signed an agreement, but we are hopeful that a settlement is at hand," church spokesman Dale Bills said in a statement.

Under the tentative settlement, ex-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner, who have spent nearly four decades in the critical study of Mormonism through their Salt Lake-based Utah Lighthouse Ministry, agreed to destroy copies of the handbook. The couple also agreed to remove links to or any mention of Internet sites carrying the Church Handbook of Instruction. In exchange, the church will drop its claims for damages and attorneys fees.

At a news conference Thursday outside their small ministry on West Temple, the Tanners insisted they did not violate copyright law. "We have entered into this settlement only to end unnecessary, prolonged and expensive litigation," Jerald Tanner said. Added his wife: "Our resources are better spent for their intended purpose: to examine the claims of the LDS Church and contrast those teachings with Christianity."

Bills said in a statement the church remained firm "in its position -- as recognized by the federal court -- that the Tanners illegally published church copyrighted materials."

The dispute began in July 1999, when the Tanners posted on their Web site 17 pages of the handbook, a chapter dealing with church disciplinary procedures. The closely guarded tome is not available to the public or general church membership.

The church, through its Intellectual Reserve Inc., that holds the rights to its intellectual property, sued the Tanners three months later, alleging copyright infringement.

The couple, faced with a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell, removed the pages. However, they later posted an e-mail message from a reader containing Internet addresses where the entire handbook could be viewed.

The church asked Campbell to order the couple to remove the addresses on the theory they were encouraging others to view and make illegal copies of the handbook pages. Campbell ordered the addresses taken down.

The decision, which the Tanners were appealing in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, sent a shock wave through the Internet community. Free-speech advocates and cybergroups, including the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the ruling threatened the free exchange of ideas and information on the global Internet.

"Judge Campbell's decision we think was a mistake and could have a broad influence on the Internet, but the Tanners' goal was not to make Internet law but to continue their ministry," said Brian Barnard, the couple's attorney. The issue, however, appears to remain in dispute.

The settlement agreement stipulates that "the temporary restraining orders and the preliminary injunction entered in this action are dissolved, withdrawn and vacated."

Barnard said that provision, if Campbell agrees to it, would withdraw her opinion restricting the posting of the Internet addresses. "That opinion is going to have a devastating effect on the Internet, so we want to get it off the books," Barnard said, adding that Campbell's ruling has already been cited in the Napster copyright lawsuit.

But the church specifically said in its statement that "any agreement must include a continuation of the injunction against ULM that prohibits unauthorized copy- righted materials produced by the church."

The issue may be a simple matter of confusion. Bills said the statement referred to a permanent injunction that would be put in place (as opposed to continued) by the agreement. The Tanners remained critical of the church for targeting them and not going after other sites carrying the handbook or links to it.

"The Salt Lake Tribune printed the URLs of Web sites which contained the Church Handbook in their regular newspaper and on their electronic edition prior to our posting. No legal action was taken against the newspaper," Barnard said. And even now, the handbook can be found by typing it into Internet search engines.

Sandra Tanner said the pages were posted as a public service for Mormons and inactive members who have had difficulty learning how to remove their names from church membership rolls.

"Unlike other churches, the Mormon Church does not make their operating manual readily available to people," she said. "We provided the quotes from the Church Handbook due to the many inquiries we have received from people seeking information on how to terminate their LDS Church membership.

People need to be informed that they do not have to be excommunicated, that they can write a letter to their bishop and resign." The Tanners asked to be removed from membership rolls in the 1960s and were excommunicated for apostasy, she said.

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