Efforts by the Church of Scientology to stop people seeing a video of Hollywood star Tom Cruise talking enthusiastically about his faith seem to have backfired spectacularly.
Scientologists tried to use copyright law to force video-sharing site YouTube to remove the material. The video has now appeared on a variety of websites – including the BBC, ITN, Hollywood-based Defamer.com and New York-based Gawker.com.
For British-based news websites, use of the video is protected as fair dealing under copyright laws for reporting news and current affairs.
Some reports, including one which appeared on The Times’ website yesterday, carried links to the video. But the video was also available on YouTube today, despite reports that it had been taken down.
Google Video was not showing it directly, but it was available through links to other sites, such as YouTube. Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said: “It really is futile to try and remove the Tom Cruise copyright infringement from the internet.
“The Scientologists, by taking action to enforce their copyrights, have made it a news story. The mistake was not to foresee that a news story has special protection in copyright law in reporting news and current events.
“Consequently, every news organisation on the planet has put the controversial video on their website – a real case of making a disaster out of a crisis.”
The affair left Cruise, and the Church of Scientology, facing a barrage of criticism, with at least one US-based website describing the footage as a Scientology indoctrination video, and comments on others describing the star as a “freak”.
During the video, which lasts about nine minutes, Cruise, speaking as the Mission Impossible theme plays in the background, says that he and fellow Scientologists are “the authorities of the mind”, who are able to “rehabilitate criminals” and “bring peace and unite cultures”.
He also says: “Being a scientologist, you look at someone, and you know absolutely that you can help them.”
The Church of Scientology was reported to have claimed that the video had been edited from a “three-hour event”.
The case follows an incident in which the Church of Scientology responded to an investigation by the BBC Panorama programme by filming journalist John Sweeney when he lost his temper and screamed with rage – and putting the footage on YouTube.
The latest row involving Cruise comes amid a growing uproar over a newly-published biography by Andrew Morton in which the 45-year-old actor is alleged to rank as second in command in the Church of Scientology.
Morton, who shot to fame with the publication of Diana, Her True Story, said: “This is a fair, even-handed treatment of Tom Cruise’s life. He’s a man who deserves attention.”
But the Church of Scientology responded with a 15-page statement, calling Morton’s book – entitled Tom Cruise: An Unauthorised Biography – “a bigoted, defamatory assault replete with lies” and saying the actor was “a Scientology parishioner and holds no official or unofficial position in the Church hierarchy”.
Rogers and Cowan, the publicity firm which represents Cruise, issued a statement criticising Morton for not interviewing “one person who has known or worked with Tom” in the past 25 years, and deriding the author for writing “outlandish and malicious lies to sell books”.
The book has been published in the United States, but is not available in Britain.
Its listing on the Amazon.com bookshop website carries a notice which says: “IMPORTANT NOTE: The Publisher has authorized the distribution of this book only to customers within the United States and Canada.”
It seems likely that restricting sales of the book to the US and Canada is intended to avoid the risk of Cruise being able to sue for libel in London, where libel laws are more claimant-friendly.
A libel case brought in the High Court in London against a New York-based author whose book was published only in the United States succeeded because 23 copies were sold into Britain and the first chapter was available on the internet.
But the restriction the publisher has put on where the book may be sold might not be sufficient to protect the author and publisher from a libel action.
Cruise might still be able to sue in London if he could prove that copies of the book had come into Britain, for example by being posted to individuals by friends, or through the second-hand market, even if the publisher had taken every possible step to restrict the market to the US and Canada.
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