by Charles W. Hall
A federal judge in Alexandria yesterday permitted The Washington
Post to retain a copy of Church of Scientology texts and to use the
texts in its news reporting, saying the paper's news-gathering
rights far outweigh claims that the documents are protected by
copyright and trade secrecy laws.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema refused to issue a
preliminary injunction against The Post, saying its excerpts of the
church's texts in an Aug. 19 Style section article were brief and
did not diminish the texts' value to the worldwide church.
The article, which reported on lawsuits filed by the church to
prevent critics from putting its texts on the Internet computer
network, included brief quotations from Scientology documents
obtained from a federal court file in Los Angeles.
"The public interest lies with the unfettered ability of The Post
to report on the news," Brinkema wrote.
The church originally sued Arnaldo Lerma, 41, of Arlington, a
former church member who put portions of the texts on the Internet.
On Aug. 12, U.S. marshals seized computer equipment and files from
Lerma's home after Scientology lawyers argued that Lerma might
possess protected trade secrets and copyrighted material.
Brinkema found it likely that The Post's story on that and other
Scientology suits would fall within the "fair use" doctrine, which
balances the rights of copyright holders with the public need for
information in areas of widespread interest.
Mary Ann Werner, vice president and counsel for The Post, said news
organizations generally are entitled to publish brief excerpts so
long as the quotations are not so extensive as to damage the
copyright's financial value. "We used this material in a very
limited and judicious way," Werner said. "There is no valid claim
that we violated their copyrights or trade secrets."
Earle C. Cooley, a Boston attorney for the church, said he had not
decided whether to appeal.
"At stake is the future of intellectual property law in this
country," Cooley said. "I don't deny this is a newsworthy article,
but thousands of articles are written about Coca-Cola, and they
don't print the formula for Coca-Cola."
The church has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the
documents. When a federal judge in Los Angeles refused to seal a
court file containing the texts, five Scientologists checked the
file out daily to prevent others from reading and copying the
After The Post succeeded in copying 103 pages from the court file
on Aug. 14, and then used brief portions in its article,
Scientology added the newspaper and reporters Marc Fisher and
Richard Leiby to its suit.
The church's original lawsuit is still pending, and the judge
subsequently ordered the files sealed.