6 Copyright Terrorists

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What lies ahead for the CoS? Does it make sense for an organization supported by user donations, auditing fees, and book sales to keep using up its resources on legally pursuing Net posters who seem unlikely to give up? If raids and vertical spam don't stop the newsgroup, does it make sense to keep trying the same tactics over and over again? Can the Net take the law into its own hands and render copyrights meaningless? If so, what does this portend for the future of intellectual property?

One scenario sounded so paranoid when it was first proposed on the newsgroup in 1995 by a poster calling himself only "Capricorn" that I dismissed it out of hand. This was that the CoS would eventually try to build a conspiracy case against the Internet and take action under the RICO statutes. At the end of 1996, however, a day before the final hearing on the CoS's demand for attorney fees in the Lerma case, Scientology representatives filed an affidavit from an Internet user identified as Peter Mante, alleging a conspiracy among Internet users to violate Scientology's copyrights. Mante, apparently using the nickname "newkid," declared that he had participated in discussions over IRC in which some of the newsgroup's best-known regulars (a few of whom have denied the allegations) had stressed the importance of continuing to post the secret documents all over the world.[31]

The Irish film censors who banned Monty Python's Life of Brian only to see it turn into an underground video hit could have warned the CoS that controversy brings popularity. Throughout 1995 the traffic on alt. religion.scientology increased, from an average 2,500 postings a week in March to 2,700 articles a day by August, according to the "Arbitron" ratings posted to news.admin.misc by DEC research scientist and Usenet expert Brian Reid throughout 1995. The raids only boosted interest, summed up by one newcomer as the sort of instinct that makes you go take a look at a 200-car pile-up. By April 2, two months after the first raids, alt.religion.scientology had moved into the top 40 in the categories of megabytes (no. 40), traffic (no. 8), and per number of readers (no. 18). Some of the fallout landed in alt.journalism, news.admin.misc, comp.org.eff.talk, alt.current-events.net-abuse, and even, with the Scamizdat postings, the hacker newsgroup alt.2600--which wasn't too thrilled at the incomers, even though the group had to admit there's something like hacking involved in anonymously posting secret scriptures.

However, Stu Sjouwerman, a Scientologist since 1982 and part owner of a computer company, dismissed the affair in an email message in mid-1995 as "less than 0.002 percent of the whole Net. Couple of dogs barking, that's all." Sjouwerman, who is passionate about Scientology's potential to save the planet, runs a closed mailing list for Scientologists, which in early 1995 he said had about two hundred members and a traffic level of fifteen to twenty messages a day. In another message, he commented,

The issue here is that copyrights are knowingly being violated and we are ready to defend our constitutional rights in court. Listen, have a look at what happened to the Jews in 1933-45. The main reason why this happened is that nobody said a word when it started and let it seep into the German society like a cancer growth. The camps were the terminal stage. We are not going to let this happen again so we are _very_ vocal and will not lie down and die because some people want us to. Remember the Price of Freedom: Constant alertness, constant willingness to fight back. There is no other price.

Homer Smith sees some of this differently, although his starting place, the value and importance of Scientology itself, is the same.


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