Web Site Prompts Mormon Church to Sue Critics

The Salt Lake Tribune, October 15, 1999
By Sheila R. McCann

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is suing longtime critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner, accusing them of violating copyright laws by posting information from an internal church handbook on the Internet. The Tanners run Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City, a nonprofit organization offering books, a newsletter and a Web site disputing LDS Church teachings and practices.

Until this week, their Web site at www.utlm.org <http://www.utlm.org> included pages from the Church Handbook of Instructions: Book 1, Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics, a guidebook printed by the LDS Church in 1998 to assist its lay clergy. Wednesday,Intellectual Reserve Inc. [IRI] demanded the removal of the pages from the Internet and sued the Tanners in federal court. IRI, created in 1997, is the Utah corporation that owns the copyrights and other intellectual-property assets used by the church. The handbook is protected by a registered copyright, and its distribution is limited to church officers, IRI said in its lawsuit. Officers who leave their positions must return their copy, the suit said.

The Tanners had posted a chapter outlining church discipline procedures and additional pages about requests to remove names from church membership rolls. Sandra Tanner said she posted the information as a public service for members and inactive Mormons interested in having their names removed. "You can quit going, and never go for 30 years, and they still call you a member," she said. "The Mormon public has the right to know what the ground rules are. It's something I have received requests on for 40 years." She said the handbook contents were provided to the Tanners anonymously this summer on a computer disk.

The Tanners removed the pages within hours of receiving a demand from IRI on Wednesday. However, IRI proceeded with the lawsuit because it also wants the Tanners to post a notice acknowledging they violated IRI copyrights and asking readers to destroy any portions they copied or downloaded, said IRI attorney Berne S. Broadbent. "The core issue here is the infringement of the copyrights," Broadbent said.

IRI has asked U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell to issue a temporary restraining order requiring the Tanners to post the notice, delete the pages and refrain from future copyright violations. A hearing is scheduled Monday.

Attorney Brian Barnard, who represents the Tanners, will argue they have already removed the material and added the notice, via their posting of IRI's demand letter. But Broadbent said IRI believes readers will be more likely to respond to a notice from the Tanners themselves. Sandra Tanner said she questions whether posting the pages violated copyright law. Under the Fair Use Doctrine, portions of a copyrighted work can be legally reproduced for criticism, news reporting, scholarship or other limited reasons.

Barnard said he is still researching whether the Tanners' postings may be protected by the doctrine. Broadbent argues they were violations of IRI copyright "because the handbook is unpublished and because there was so much of it that was published [on the Web site .]"

Sandra Tanner argues the pages posted were a fraction of the full handbook, and were available at no cost for educational purposes. Some inactive Mormons have been frustrated to learn they are still considered members, and have had difficulty learning how to have their names removed, she said. When inactive Mormons move to a new address, they are often surprised to be contacted by church members, she said. "[People ask,] 'How do we get this to stop? Every time we move, we get the home teachers again.' Many people consider it harassment," she said.

Broadbent said members can receive such information by contacting church headquarters or local bishops of the church.

Sandra Tanner said members also have been unable to learn how their request will be processed. For example, the posted pages explained that a church official may convene a disciplinary council if there is evidence the member requesting removal has committed a transgression, she said.

"It's like going into your boss and saying, 'I quit,' and the boss writes on the paperwork, 'I fired them because they had a bad attitude,' " she said.

"The average Mormon has no way of knowing these ground rules."

The Tanners asked to be removed from membership rolls in the 1960s and were excommunicated for apostasy , she said. Recently, some LDS Church members have publicly announced their requests to be removed from membership rolls in objection to the church's lobbying against same-sex marriage.

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