SCIENTOLOGY FEE REQUEST DENIED IN INTERNET CASE
The federal court in Alexandria,
Virginia today declined to award attorneys' fees to the an arm
of the Church of Scientology, stemming from minor copyright violations on the Internet committed by a vocal opponent of the Church. Making a final ruling in Religious Technology Center v. Lerma, Civil Action No. 95-1107-A (E.D.Va.), U.S. District Judge Leonnie M. Brinkema found that the copyright violations were a "close call," and that the public interest would not be served by making any award to the Religious Technology Center, which is a subsidiary of the controversial Church of Scientology.
The case began when Defendant Arnaldo Lerma, a former Scientologist, posted on the Internet a court document known as the Fishman Affidavit which contained excerpts from Scientology scripture authored by L. Ron Hubbard, which is called "Advanced Technology.". Lerma believed, after consulting with a lawyer, that because the document was an open court> record, it could be transmitted without violating the Copyright laws. He was promptly sued for more than $3 million dollars by RTC which obtained a seizure warrant -- normally used to confiscate books or tapes which are copyright violations -- and searched his home and took away his computer, including business records and e-mail. RTC also claimed that the material in the Fishman Document was a trade secret. When the Washington Post wrote a story about the seizure which included a discussion of the' Fishman Affidavit, RTC sued the Post as well.
The Court dismissed the case against the Post in November 1995 and, in December 1995, ruled that the Lerma had not committed any trade secret violations. In January 1996, the Court ruled that Lerma had committed a small number of non-willful copyright violations. A lengthy Opinion was issued by Judge Brinkema on October 4, 1996 ordering Lerma to pay $2,500 for five violations of the Copyright Act. RTC sought to have the opinion sealed on the grounds that it contained an incorrect discussion of Scientology doctrine. After obtaining an initial sealing order, the Opinion was released to the public. Shortly thereafter, RTC moved for an attorneys fee award of nearly $500,000. In reaching her decision, Judge Brinkema weighed the motives of the parties, the novel questions raised by the case and the public interest. She also issued an injunction which prohibited Lerma from copying or disseminating Advanced Technology, but made it clear that his right to criticize Scientology would not be limited, nor would his right to make "fair use" of small portions of Advanced Technology, if done in the context of criticism or comment.
Lerma's attorney, David Masselli of Masselli & Lane, P.C. stated: "We are pleased that the court recognized that this relatively minor copyright violation did not merit the heavy-handed litigation generated by the Church of Scientology or the payment of exorbitant attorneys' fees. Mr. Lerma is prepared to pay his $2,500 penalty. He realizes that he made a mistake when he uploaded the Fishman Affidavit. However, he will not curtail his advocacy with respect to bringing public scrutiny to bear on the practices of the Church of Scientology. He will just be certain, in the future, not to violate the copyright laws."
Lerma, contacted at his home in Arlington, Virginia, was pleased with the result. "Scientology sought to crush me and prevent me from raising my voice by waging war through litigation. This ruling completes a major victory for supporters of free speech. The Court has declared that facts about the inner workings of Scientology are not trade secrets, it supported my right to expose the Church to the Washington Post and, today, it denied the Church's attempt to crush me financially. I will continue my opposition to the Church." Asked about the injunction, Lerma stated, "I never knowingly put copyrighted material on the Intemet. I think the Court recognized that I only uploaded the Fishman Affidavit because I thought it was a public document. I can certainly continue my opposition to Scientology without violating copyright law and I intend to do so."
RTC claimed to have spent more than $1,740,000 in prosecuting the case.
For more information Contact:
David Masselli 703-741-0975
Arnie Lerma 703-241 - 1498
The controversial section of Judge Brinkema's Memorandum Opinion:
"The dispute in this case surrounds Lerma's acquisition and publication on the Internet of texts that the Church of Scientology considers sacred and protects heavily from unauthorized disclosure. Founded by L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology religion attempts to explain the origin of negative spiritual forces in the world and advances techniques for improving one's own spiritual well-being. Scientologists believe that most human problems can be traced to lingering spirits of an extraterrestrial people massacred by their ruler, Xenu, over 75 million years ago. These spirits attach themselves by "clusters" to individuals in the contemporary world, causing spiritual harm and negatively influencing the lives of their hosts" [Judge Leonie Brinkema 4 Oct 96 Memorandum Opinion]
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