Scientology Suit Against Post Dismissed

The Washington Post/November 29, 1995
By Charles W. Hall

A lawsuit against the Washington Post by the Church of Scientology has been dismissed by a federal judge, who ordered the church to pay all attorney fees in the suit.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said the church had no grounds to prohibit The Post from printing brief excerpts from religious texts that the church has tried to conceal from the public. The excerpts were published in a Style section story on litigation between the church and former members who have put the disputed texts on the Internet.

In her ruling, filed yesterday, Brinkema said The Post's quotations from copyrighted church texts were brief and fell within the fair-use doctrine, which allows publications to quote some copyrighted materials in covering matters of public interest.

"The court finds the motivation of plaintiff in filing this lawsuit against The Post is reprehensible," Brinkema wrote. "Although the [Religious Technology Center, an arm of the Scientology Church] brought the complaint under traditional secular concepts of copyright and trade secret law, it has become clear that a much broader motivation prevailed - the stifling of criticism and dissent of the religious practices of Scientology and the destruction of its opponents."

Mary Ann Werner, vice president and counsel for The Post, said: "Obviously, we're very pleased with the judge's decision. The fact that she awarded us attorney's fees is a very strong indication that she thought we had done nothing wrong."

Helena Kobrin, attorney for the Religious Technology Center, called Brinkema's ruling "another nail in the coffin of American Justice. We brought this suit to protect our religious rights, but the judge defiled them when she bought into the propaganda of the Internet anarchists. The essential fact is that our sacred scriptures were stolen in the first place, and this theft and rape of our copyrighted property has been completely buried under this travesty."

Scientology officials said they had not decided whether to appeal.

Brinkema has yet to rule on Scientology suits against Arnaldo Lerma, a former member from Arlington who published church texts on the Internet, or against Digital Gateway Systems, the company that gave Lerna access to the Internet.

The church has filed three federal suits nationally seeking to prevent dissidents from publishing its texts electronically. On Monday, a federal judge in San Jose denied attempts by a California bulletin board service to have another Scientology suit dismissed.

The church has argued that trade-secrecy and copyright laws prohibit news publications, church members and bulletin board services from disseminating church texts. It said the texts are confidential instructional materials for advanced members.

In helping to prepare the Aug. 19 article, written by staff writer Marc Fisher, a Post researcher obtained 69 pages of advanced training material filed in a federal libel case against a former church member in Los Angeles.

According to church beliefs outlined in the material, a galactic federation leader solved an overpopulation problem 75 million years ago by transporting excess people to Earth, where they were chained to a volcano and exploded by hydrogen bomb.

Church officials help students achieve awareness by re-creating that experience, according to the text.

Post lawyers argued that the article adhered to the fair-use doctrine. They also said the materials no longer were trade secrets, because they were available on the Internet and in public court files.

Brinkema said that although people can be sued for putting business secrets on the Internet, trade-secrecy laws do not prevent Internet users from downloading such material. "once a trade secret is posted on the Internet, it is effectively part of the public domain," she wrote.

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