Google restored a Web site critical of the Church of Scientology on its Internet search engine on Thursday while free speech advocates slammed the company for removing the site in the first place.
Google said the company had only removed certain pages from the site because of a copyright dispute.
"Certain pages of the Xenu.net Web site were removed from our search engine earlier this week in response to a copyright infringement notification under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)," Google spokesman David Krane said in an e-mail.
The home page for Xenu.net was "inadvertently removed" along with a long, two-page list of associated Web pages on Wednesday, but was put back on Thursday, said Google spokeswoman Cindy McCaffrey. Neither she nor Krane were available for further comment.
On Thursday evening, the Web site was listed fourth under Google search results for "Scientology" and eighth under "Church of Scientology."
A lawyer representing the Church of Scientology accused Xenu.net of "wholesale, verbatim copyright infringement" by allegedly reprinting large amounts of material on the site.
"We don't abuse this act," the lawyer, Helena Kobrin of the Los Angeles firm of Moxin & Kobrin said of the DMCA. "We go very strictly by what the copyright laws are."
Copyright law allows people to use pieces of copyrighted material for personal, education and other purposes under a so-called "fair use" provision. However, Kobrin said the Web site used more than was allowed under fair use.
"We will do whatever we can to protect these copyrights," she said. "The real story here is my clients are constantly the targets of some really horrendous stuff on the Internet."
The Church of Scientology, whose members include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, has mounted challenges to Web sites and organizations that are critical of it in the past.
Robin Gross, staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the Church of Scientology was trying to use copyright law to stifle criticism. "A lot of the cases using copyright to quell critics are Church of Scientology cases," she said.
The DMCA protects companies that host or link to Web sites from being held liable if they notify allegedly offending Web sites that there is a complaint about them and give them a chance to respond, Gross said.
Google did not have to remove Xenu.net immediately, as the company claimed it did in a letter to Andreas Heldal-Lund, the Norwegian Web master of the site, attorney Gross said.
"Had we not removed these URLs (uniform resource locators, or network address of Web pages), we would be subject to a claim for copyright infringement, regardless of its merit," Google said in its letter.
Don Marti, an activist who protested the arrest of a Russian programmer under the DMCA last year, said he and other activists met with Google on Thursday to discuss the situation.
"Google invited us right in," said Marti, whose ad hoc group is called "Mountain View, California, Xenu Independent Study Group."
Google had the Web site back up before the group arrived at its Mountain View offices on Thursday afternoon, he said.
"We're discussing Google's DMCA policy and trying to keep this from happening again," Marti said. "Google should be a fair and accurate representation of what's on the Internet."