Nightmare on the Net

A web of intrigue surrounds the high-stakes legal brawl between FACTnet and the Church of Scientology.

The Advanced Technology files found on Wollersheim's and Penny's equipment remain under seal in the Colorado case, which has yet to go to trial. Since the raids, though, excerpts of Hubbard's secret writings have surfaced on a variety of Web sites around the world. Kobrin says that not only are the ongoing copyright infringements an economic threat to CSI but that they interfere with the rights of Hubbard's followers "to practice their religion as they see fit." She says she hears frequently from Scientology parishioners "who are greatly distressed by these pirates whose goal is to destroy their religious scriptures."

Yet many of the sites have been set up by defiant computer buffs--individuals who have no prior connection to Scientology but believe it's their duty as "Netizens" to fight what they regard as efforts at censorship.

"I've been involved in various anti-censorship movements on the Net," says Ray Randolph, a systems administrator for a Fortune 100 company in Boulder who's put up an anti-Scientology Web page. "But this--it's become a pretty serious hobby. I've bought over 450 pounds of Scientology documents. At first it was just the censorship thing, but at some point it dawned on me that this thing has real victims out there."

Randolph's site has steered clear of the Fishman papers, which have all but vanished from U.S. sites, but it does feature first-person accounts by former Scientologists of alleged mistreatment, a multimedia archive of photos and soundbites, and links to other archives. One of his aims, Randolph says, is to present evidence, culled from Hubbard's own writings and lectures, that contradicts claims that Scientology is "compatible" with Christianity.

"The biggest complaint I get when I talk to Scientologists is that I'm taking stuff out of context," he explains. "So my answer has been to provide the whole document; then there's no question about context."

Two weeks ago Randolph received an e-mail message from Helena Kobrin, demanding that he remove several items from his site that Kobrin considered to be copyright infringements. Randolph replied that he would remove some files, but he insisted that his handling of others qualified as fair use.

"What I'm doing is almost like civil disobedience," he says. "If I get burned, okay, but what they're doing needs to be exposed somehow."

More than three months before the raids on FACTNet, Larry Wollersheim wrote to donors to advise them that his fledgling nonprofit was under siege--threatened with "frivolous lawsuits" and "black PR smear tactics" orchestrated by members or agents of Scientology. Noting that the church had recently filed suit against Dennis Erlich, an outspoken ex-Scientology minister, and his Internet provider, Wollersheim added, "We have reason to believe that, under false pretenses and accusations, we may be raided and our equipment seized."

When it finally happened, the timing of the raid may have caught Wollersheim by surprise--he was in bed with his girlfriend--but he'd been preparing for such an event for some time.

"Did I know they would raid us? I didn't know that," he says now. "Did I suspect that Scientology would do something to harm us that would involve us in litigation sooner or later? Hey, I had been in four other lawsuits with them."

Such foresight had prompted FACTNet's directors to take out two separate million-dollar insurance policies to help fund a defense in any litigation against the company. The premiums were almost more than their budget could handle, Wollersheim says. At the time of the raid, "we were one month away from not being able to make our insurance payment," he says. "We would have been dead in the water."

Wollersheim argues that the searches of his home and Penny's, authorized by federal judge Lewis Babcock, would never have occurred if Babcock had been fully informed about Wollersheim's history of litigation against Scientology, FACTNet's status as a nonprofit electronic archive, the intended use of the unpublished documents on their computers (which, he says, were part of a database being prepared for attorneys in another case against the church and weren't for public consumption) and other key factors. Yet one could also make a case that Wollersheim and Penny practically invited the raids by declaring FACTNet's support of Lerma's actions, urging more postings of the Fishman papers (which church attorneys regard as proof that the group was encouraging people to violate copyright laws) and other provocations.

"We leaked out that we had no insurance," Wollersheim says. "We had a plant in the organization, and I knew we were going to run out of money. I figured if it was going to happen, it should happen quickly. They bit the bait and came right in."

The ensuing litigation quickly became a tar baby for all concerned. In most copyright disputes, $2 million would represent an adequate war chest, but not in the FACTNet case, which has already produced more than 700 discovery requests and a ceaseless barrage of motions and pleadings; one motion by RTC's attorneys for summary judgment (recently denied by Judge Kane) was accompanied by a dozen boxes full of supporting exhibits. The million dollars from the first insurance policy was exhausted in less than six months.

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