The Washington Post. August 13, 1995.
VIRGINIA MAN'S COMPUTER SEIZED IN INTERNET LAWSUIT
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Last week, Lerma's postings contained "confidential and unpublished"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
"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.)