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Scientology cases verdict: victory for freedom of opinion

XS4ALL, Netherlands
Sep. 4, 2003 Press Release
www.xs4all.nl

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday September 8, 2003

The Court of Appeal in The Hague today rejected all of Scientology‘s claims in appeal in Scientology’s action against XS4ALL, Karin Spaink and ten other internet providers. The court concluded that Spaink’s publications which quoted from works of Scientology were completely legal. In this case, the court said, freedom of opinion does not take second place to enforcement of copyright. ‘The (…) texts show that, in their doctrine and their organization, Scientology et al. do not hesitate to reject democratic values. From the texts it also follows that one of the objects of the non-disclosure of the contents of OT II and OT III … is to thwart discussion of the doctrine and practices of the Scientology organization’, according to the Court of Appeal. Scientology therefore cannot invoke copyright in these proceedings in order to preclude any discussion of the nature of the sect. This means that there are no grounds for any claim against XS4ALL or other providers. The court has found against Scientology on all points.

On 5 September 1995 a bailiff, assisted by representatives of the sect, raided the premises of XS4ALL to seize materials of clients that Scientology claimed to be in violation of its copyright. The conflict revolved around the publications of the Fishman Affidavit on the internet. This testimony used in legal proceedings in the U.S. quotes from Scientology documents. The sect thereupon instituted exhaustive judicial proceedings, and each time the court decided in favour of XS4ALL subscriber Karin Spaink, XS4ALL and the co-defendants. Neither the court in first instance nor the appellate court found the quotes on the home pages to be unlawful. In interim injunction proceedings in 1996, the District Court of The Hague had already declared all Scientology’s claims against XS4ALL, Karin Spaink and other defendants to be unfounded. The court decision in full proceedings of 9 June 1999 again confirmed this.

However, the decision of the Amsterdam District Court of 9 June 1999 included a separate declaratory judgment stating that providers must take action if they are made aware of material on their servers that infringes upon a copyright if ‘the correctness of the notification of this fact cannot be reasonably doubted’. This judgment was grounds for XS4ALL to initiate appeal proceedings of its own. After all, both providers and internet users stand to gain from rules that are crystal-clear. Unless the criteria for removing information from a site are clearly delineated, commercial interests of providers may all too readily prevail over the protection of freedom of opinion. In its ruling, the Appellate Court of The Hague has now set aside this declaratory judgment of the District Court in Amsterdam.

The decision of 9 June 1999 also made reference to hyperlinks to material that infringes upon a copyright. According to the decision, if a provider is aware of this, it must take action against these hyperlinks. XS4ALL was of the opinion that the court went too far with this. After all, a hyperlink is merely a road marker on the internet, and according to XS4ALL, it can therefore never be unlawful. XS4ALL instituted appeal proceedings against this as well. The Appellate Court in The Hague has now also set aside this judgment of the District Court in Amsterdam. Moreover, the District Court ruled that, under certain circumstances, providers may make known the names and addresses of their subscribers. This judgment, too, was quashed by the Appellate Court.

XS4ALL is naturally very pleased with the outcome.

Verdict 4 September 2003 (pdf):
http://www.xs4all.nl/nieuws/overzicht/arrestscientology.pdfPDF file [English versionPDF file]

More information on this case.

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