August 26, 1995
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Church of Scientology is going to unusual lengths to protect the secrecy of copyrighted church secrets.
Two weeks ago, Arnie Lerma's home office was raided by U.S. Marshal's accompanied by lawyers and officials from the Church of Scientology. While the marshal's stood by, Lermas' computer was dismantled and carried away.
He left the church 17 years ago after what he calls a dispute involving his romance with the daughter of church founder L. Ron Hubbard. He's been using his computer to spread copyrighted writings of Hubbard, which he obtained from court records in California. "I run a business. Everything I have is in the computer," Lermas says. "All my financials... it's like an extension of my mind. So I'm essentially out of business."
Last week in Colorado Springs, the same thing happened at the headquarters of Factnet, which calls itself an information storehouse for information on cults, including Scientology.
Church officials say publication of copyrighted materials without permission could cost the church members and money. "It's simple, its theft and our beef is they should discontinue theft. It's copyright terrorism," says Leisa Goodman, a Scientology Spokeswoman.
Scientologists say the unpublished writings of church founder L. Ron Hubbard, called "advanced technology" could be misunderstood by people who have not gone through the extensive series of Scientology courses that help church members achieve "higher consciousness."
Some members pay little or work in return for the courses while others reportedly pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"You have to go up certain levels in Scientology in spiritual awareness," says Goodman, "and then you're ready to attain that knowledge and that's the way it works and we're trying to protect that."
Independent experts say the church has every right to protect its copyrights. "The copyright code clearly covers what goes on the Internet just as it has relevance to what happens in the media, papers, CNN, TV... the Internet is clearly covered by copyright protection." That perspective comes from Richard Chused of the Georgetown Law Center.
Lerma sent a copy of the secrets to the Washington Post, which also got copies from the California court case. The Post article described a church doctrine which includes a galactic federation ruled by a being named Zenu. Zenu, according to the Post, solved an overpopulation problem 75 million years ago by transporting excess people to the Earth.
The church promptly sued the Post demanding return of the secret documents. A judge denied the church's request that the secret papers be returned immediately but has not made a final ruling.
Church lawyers say the Post has a larger agenda. "They say, 'But we gotta keep this big 107-page file, because we may want to use it some more,' Scientology Attorney Earle Cooley says, "so that's what they're talking about is bleeding it out, an inch at a time."
The American Civil Liberties Union worries that the church and the government went too far in seizing all of Lerma's computer equipment and data. "The problem is that they didn't just seize copyrighted material. They took the hardware, the monitor, the computer box, modem, and all the disks and all the information in the computer. It's sort of like a teacher Xeroxing articles. 'We not only seized articles but also the university Xerox machines,'" says Chris Hanson of the ACLU.
Church-hired computer experts have been doing electronic searches of Lerma's computer, looking for any file that contains words such as "Hubbard." They want all files with copyrighted material deleted before the computer is returned.
Arnie Lerma is shaken by what has happened the past two weeks. He breaks down during the interview and attempts to hold back the tears, "I'm sorry," he says in a shaky voice, "but you can't get in any trouble by telling the truth."
But, Lerma says he'll continue fighting to tell the world about the church, no matter how much Scientologists try to stop him.
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