STALKING THE NET

IN THE ONLINE BRAWL OVER SCIENTOLOGY, INTERNET USERS DISCOVER THAT VIRTUAL REALITY BITES BACK.SHOWDOWN IN CYBERSPACE THE BATTLE OVER SCIENTOLOGY'S SECRETS IGNITES A HOLY WAR ON THE INTERNET.

FACTNet attorney Tom Kelley believes the search had another objective. "It's real obvious that this was an intelligence-gathering operation, not just a search for infringing material," he says.

On the heels of Judge Kane's ruling, denying Scientology's bid for a preliminary injunction and ordering the computers returned, Judge Lonnie Brinkema made a similar decision in the Lerma case. Last week a judge in California ordered that Dennis Erlich's computers be restored to him, too, even though his postings of copyrighted material were deemed too massive to qualify as fair use.

Wollersheim says he won't know the "damage" done to FACTNet until he gets his original hard drives back. His long struggle with the Church has clearly exacted a toll, financially and psychologically--last year he told a reporter he was $1 million in debt, excluding attorney fees--and may never be fully resolved. ("He is what he is," Kelley notes. "In some ways, he's never left the Church of Scientology.") Yet the FACTNet case extends beyond what Wollersheim calls "our pipsqueak operation."

Kane's ruling prohibits Wollersheim and Penny from making any copies of Advanced Technology materials or distributing them "other than in the context of fair use." But it may take the courts months to decide what constitutes fair use of Hubbard's unpublished but much-discussed writings. The existing copyright laws, last revised in 1976, weren't written with the Internet in mind. If posting a copyrighted document is a crime, what about browsing it? What about putting a link to it on your Web site, so that surfers can connect to another site in another country that contains the document?

Wollersheim notes that Lerma posted 63 pages of Church documents out of more than a thousand pages of such material. "Sixty-three pages--that's not even a hiccup on the Internet," he says. "We need to redefine fair use in the new cyberworld paradigm."

In the absence of new paradigms, the Fishman papers continue to roam the Net, with Scientology's lawyers in hot pursuit. Last month Scientologists and local police seized the equipment of an Internet provider in Amsterdam, after the provider refused to delete an anonymous remailer who was using the site to post the documents. Dutch outrage over the incident has spawned numerous other Web sites offering access to the documents, including one link on a Dutch legislator's home page. Some sites have removed the Fishman files at the Church's request, but at least one server in Beijing took them down because demand was so high that it was overwhelming the service.

Wollersheim says the Fishman papers "have now been translated, encrypted and hid just about anywhere you can imagine around the world. They can't stop them fast enough. They tried to put out a fire with matches and gasoline."

He adds, "It's becoming a game for newbies. The first thing you learn when you get on the Internet is where to find the Fishman papers."

One place you won't find them is on FACTNet's new hard drives. But Wollersheim has a pretty good idea where to find the latest buzz on Scientology.

"Watch the Net," he says. "It works. It works.

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