The Washington Post. August 13, 1995.


Church of Scientology Claims Postings Infringed on Copyrights

By Lam Nguyen

U.S. marshalls seized computer equipment and files yesterday from an Arlington man who has posted material criticizing the Church of Scientology on the Internet.

For the last year, Arnaldo Lerma has posted on the Internet court documents involving the California-based church, including testimony from former church officials who describe it as a dangerous cult.

Last week, Lerma's postings contained "confidential and unpublished" teachings that the church provides to its members only through one-on-one counseling, according to a lawyer for the church. The church filed a lawsuit against Lerma and his Internet provider, Vienna-based Digital Gateway Systems, claiming copyright infringement.

Lerma said the information he posted came from an affidavit in a California case involving the church - a public document that can be obtained by anyone. "I'm just trying to inform the public in the public interest", he said.

Lerma, 44, left the church 15 years ago and has become a vocal critic of church practices. He once was romantically involved with a daughter of the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Federal marshals and church lawyers went to Lerma's house yesterday with a court order to remove any equipment that could be used to post Scientology information on Internet. Lerma said they took more than 400 computer disks, four computer hard drives, a computer, and a scanner.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of Alexandria authorized the search and seizure on Friday.

Helena Kobrin, a church lawyer, said widespread distribution of the church's upper-level teachings on the Internet will cause financial harm to the church because members generally donate funds to learn the information.

"The church supports itself through the donations for the services it delivers," Kobrin said, calling Lerma's actions "copyright terrorism".

Several Internet activists criticized the church's lawsuit as a threat to freedom of speech.

"The church's use of legal process to harass Arnie Lerma offends both the free speech and privacy interests protected by the Constitution and our laws", said Mike Godwin, a lawyer for the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group. "Regardless of whatever merit there is to [Scientology's] claims, the underlying intent is to intimidate critics of the church."

(Staff writer Richard Leiby contributed to this article.)