6 Copyright Terrorists

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Bob! crowd,[12] was that "just about everybody got hit." Barwell's discovery that two of his postings had been canceled was quickly followed by another: USC Title 18, Part I, Chapter 121, "Unlawful access to stored communications." At the beginning of March 1995, he wrote a letter to the FBI asking it to enforce the code, with copies to his own Internet service provider (ISP), Neosoft, and to Netcom, the service the forgeries were coming from. "Two days later, Netcom FINALLY announced after nearly two weeks that they finally disabled the accounts through which the forgeries were occurring," Barwell wrote by email a few months later.

Another set of cancellation attempts surfaced not long afterward using the southern California provider Deltanet; the two accounts involved were terminated after only two days. After that, the forging cancellers got more sophisticated: starting in early April 1995, they were anonymized by using public-access newsreaders and falsifying the name of the machine the postings came from.[13] The many cancellations that spring that appeared to come from Britain's Demon Internet, for example, were eventually traced to a public-access news site in Dublin.

No one has ever owned up to the cancellations. When asked about them in April 1995, CoS in-house attorney Helena Kobrin replied in an email message, "In an effort to protect its rights, the Church has contacted several Computer Bulletin Board operators in recent months who, when apprised of the illegal and offensive nature of the postings, agreed to remove the infringing materials from the Net."

When the cancellations continued through July and August 1995, a team including representatives from the United States, Canada, and Germany and calling itself the Rabbit Hunters or, more formally, the Ad-Hoc Committee Against Internet Censorship, began some fancy technical detective work. By comparing system logs and monitoring news servers, the group believed it had finally traced the source of the trouble to the account of a Scientologist who had posted prolifically early that spring. Asked to comment on their claims, Kobrin did not reply.

In the meantime, more drastic action was being suggested: on January 12, 1995, Kobrin posted the following message in alt.config:

We have requested that the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup be removed from all sites. The reasons for requesting its removal are: (1) it was started with a forged message; (2) not discussed on alt.config; (3) it has the name "scientology" in its title which is a trademark and is misleading, as a.r.s. is mainly used for flamers to attack the Scientology religion; (4) it has been and continues to be heavily abused with copyright and trade secret violations and serves no purpose other than condoning these illegal practices.[14]

The assembled system administrators' collective reply, essentially, was, "Forget it." Even if they had agreed, alt is enough of an anarchy that the newsgroup probably would have survived anyway, as most sites are set up to automatically honor all group creation ("newgroup") requests but ignore all group deletion ("rmgroup") requests. The reason is that there is a substantial school of thought that holds that no alt newsgroup should ever be removed, even if it's clearly past its use-by date, like the jokingly named alt.fan.tonya-harding.whack.whack.whack.[15] Many alt groups were not discussed on alt.config; many were also created with forged messages, just as many include company or other names without authorization. This is business as usual, however much it sounds like lawlessness to outsiders.

By email, Kobrin commented, "As the newsgroup involved were [sic] only a very small number out of the total newsgroups, it was considered that it might be preferable to do it that way than to take legal action. This did not turn out to be the case and the matter is a dead issue now." This was probably the moment when any chance that the Net and the CoS would find some way to reach conciliatory terms was lost.


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