Scientology: squeezed

[Originally published in Het Parool; translation by Patricia Savenije.]

ALL ACROSS THE planet, Scientology is hunting down copies of a court document that contains a part of their material. This document, the so-called Fishman Affadavit, is considered the umptieth proof of the fact that Scientology brainwashes its adepts, intimidates its critics, commits fraud, plans to murder people, abuses the legal system, etcetera. This particular court-document is different from all the others, in that ‘Fishman’ contains quotes from the expensive lessons that Scientology sells to their high-levelled adepts. It is a ridiculous scrap of a space-opera, with all the galactic federations and overlords that come with the genre. The most elevated lessons teach how to communicate with plants and animals.

Claiming that its copyright and trade-secrets are violated in the court file, but more probably because the cult is afraid to lose members and subsequently a source of income, Scientology filed a great number of lawsuits on people who made the document available through Internet.

They wanted Fishman out of the Netherlands as well. At first, it was only accessible on Fonss’ homepage at XS4ALL. After the cult had seized the XS4ALL-computers for that reason, more and more Dutch netizens joined a mass-protest and made the documents available themselves. At the moment, the Fishman Affidavit can be found at over eighty sites in the Netherlands. Amongst those the homepages of Oussama Cherribi (member of parliament), Marcel Möring (writer), the ‘Groene Amsterdammer’ (a weekly magazine), the Tros (a tv network) and myself.

All Internet-providers that thereby got involved in the case, have by now received letters of the law firm that represents Scientology in this matter: Nauta Dutilh. The lawyers summoned providers to remove the document and threaten to sue them if they refuse to do so. But such a case is very complex, even without considering whether or not the cult’s claim is valid: is the provider responsible, or should the account-holders be addressed individually? And is a provider allowed to delete homepages of its subscribers? As of yet, there is no jurisprudence on the subject.

Participants in the protest therefore supposed that the cult would, in order to avoid a long procedure over the responsibility-issue, rather sue an individual than an Internet-provider. But the latter weren’t to eager to give the names and addresses of their users. Therefore the cult was forced to look all by itself for information about people who made Fishman available on their homepage. Well: they’ve found it: I was the only one of the then sixty participants they tracked down. Cherribi was apparently too big a fish for CoS, even though information about him can easily be found in the records of the Dutch parliament.

I’m not afraid to appear in court. But the real question is whether Scientology feels the same way. They have an extremely weak case: their own material is of course copyrighted, but court documents are public property and can thus be distributed freely by anyone who feels like it. The document doesn’t contain the complete higher level courses, only fragments of them – which isn’t considered a copyright-infringement. Apart from that, public interest is served by making the Fishman Affidavit available: the document proves that the cult uses illegal and criminal means to achieve its goals. And especially this public interest is emphasized by the massive protest and because well-known people participate in it – a member of parliament, a writer, a television network, a weekly and a publicist.

Mr. Bakker Schut, XS4ALL’s lawyer, has used this argument in his reply to the demands of Nauta Dutilh, but still hasn’t received their reaction. The law-firm only sends exactly the same letter to other providers who got involved in this affair as they sent to XS4ALL a month ago. That’s why Bakker Schut sent a rather irritated letter to the CoS lawyers. In ordinary language, this said: “You’re not even taking the trouble to answer me and meanwhile you insist on sending exactly the same threatening letters to other providers? What are your arguments worth, and how about your threat to take this case to court? Is this only bluff and intimidation?”

That could very well be the case. Losing the trial in this country will have international consequences for the cult. In the USA, CoS has filed several similar complaints for a supposed copyright and trade secret infringement. And with each trial, Scientology loses more: one US judge has barely ruled that Fishman can’t contain trade secrets because the material has been available to the public for years, or another judge wonders whether or not their copyright claim has any legal value at all. At this moment, they’re losing on all frontiers. A Dutch ruling in which the publication of the entire Fishman Affidavit is allowed because it simply is a court document, will certainly be more than CoS can take. After all, that would mean that the document that the cult so desperately tries to remove from the public eye, is declared officially free in the Netherlands. And as far as Internet is concerned: any document that is available in the Netherlands can be downloaded all over the world.

The other question is whether Scientology can afford to refrain from taking this matter to court. It would mean that their secrets are literally ‘out on the street’ – on the information highway, bit for bit – and obtainable for everyone who owns a computer and a modem. Apart from that, it would make a most strange impression on a US judge if he found out that the only thing Scientology did in the Netherlands was to have their lawyers send some crappy threats.

Scientology is being thoroughly squeezed. Instead of having to deal with only one Fishman in the Netherlands, they are now facing eighty of them. And meanwhile, more people in this country have learned about Scientology than in the last ten years. All kinds of people are roaming the Internet in search of information, and almost everybody comes to the same conclusion: this ‘religion’ stinks beyond imagination.


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