by Charles W. Hall
Church of Scientology Wins
Cyberspace Copyright Fight
Dumping of Texts Onto Internet Ruled Illegal
By Charles W. Hall
Washington Post Staff Writer
A federal judge ruled yesterday
that an Arlington County man violat-
ed copyright laws when he dumped
sacred texts Of the Church Of Scien-
tology onto the Internet, saying
words enjoy legal protection even in
"This is a very important victory,"
said Helena K. Kobrin, a Scientology
attorney from Los Angeles. "Thse
Internet is part of this universe and
country, and you can't just take
copyright laws and say they don't
Arnaldo Lerma, 45, expressed dis-
may at the ruling, in which U.S.
trict Judge Leonie M. Brinkeina said
there was such compelling evidence of
copyright violatwn that she found no
need to send the case to a jury.
"I was absolutely speechless," said
Lerma, a former church member.
"At the worst case, I thought I'd
have a chance to send my case to a
jury of my peers."
Copyright cases involving the
Internet,are increasing as use of the
World Wide Web grows. Most suits
involve software manufacturers
seeking to prevent the dissemination
of pirated programs.
"There is no parallel to this case,"
said Dick Cleek, a member of the Ad
Hoc Committee Against Internet
Censorship. "There is nothing on
this scale, with the degree of organi-
zation, rancor and money that Scien-
For years, Scientology officials
have aggressively sued critics and
publications that attacked the
church. But in August, the church
and several dissidents, including
Lerma, Put themselves on a collision
course that raised ftmdamental ques-
tions about how copyright laws apply
to free-flowmg dialogue on computer
bulletin board services.
Using an electronic scanner, Ler-
ma posted training materials from
the Religious Technology Center, an
arm of Scientology. The materials
were written by L. Ron Hubbard, a
science ficfion writer who founded
The texts described Hubbard's
theories and procedures for cleans-
ing humans of spiritual traumas, in-
cluding some that remain from a
prehistoric galactic disaster de-
scibed by Hubbard.
Brinkema noted in her ruing yes-
terday that a "fair use" exception al-
lows publications to disseminate
some copyrighted material. But she
said permissable excerpts generally
must be brief and used to illustrate a
larger story that discusses issues of
In September, Brinkema ruled that
The Washington Post, which was sued
for copyright violations for an Aug. 19
Style article on Lerma, met that stan-
dard. But she said yesterday that Ler-
ma, who put 64 pages of copied text on
the Internet, had violated the law
through wholesale copying, virtually
without editorial comment.
Cyberspace and copyright special-
ists differ on the impact of the ruling.
David G. Post, co-director of the
Cyberspace Law Institute at
Georgetown University, said Brinke-
ma's ruling was almost inevitable.
"Unless you decide that copyright
law means something very different
in cyberspace, there's almost no
choice," he said.
Post said a second Scientology
case, in which an Internet access
provider in San Jose is bemg sued
for not blocking transmission of the
texts, could have greater inpact on
the Internet's future.
Scientology knows it can never
stop the Arnie Lerma's of the world.
Companies like CompuServe and
America Online have to obey the
Law" Post said.
But Lerma and other advocates of
free expression on the Internet see
it in different terms, comparing the
Internet to an expanded electronic
version of village debate.
Lerma compares the Internet to
"Liberty trees" of colonial times,
when villagers posted public com-
mentary on local trees.
Lerma's attorney, Thomas Kelley,
said the documents were part of a
running dialogue by Lerma and oth-
ers on a news group about Scientolo-
gy "and were necessary, he believed,
to illustrate the foibles of the Church
Lerma's civil penalty remained
unclear yesterday. Brinkema can or-
der him to pay as much as $1,000
for each copyright violation. Sciento-
logy officials, who said they would
seek attorney's fees, claimed 33 vio-
lations, a figure on which Brinkema
has not ruled.