Palo Alto man to pay church $75,000

Publication Date: Wednesday May 20, 1998

COURTS: Palo Alto man to pay church $75,000

Court rules that Internet posting violated Scientologists' copyright

Palo Alto engineer Keith Henson was ordered to pay $75,000 to the Church of Scientology last week after he posted some of the church's unpublished teachings on the Internet.

The award by a federal jury in San Jose is one of the largest made for copyright infringement of a single work, according to Helena Kobrin, an attorney representing the Church of Scientology.

The court found that Henson willfully infringed the copyright of an unpublished religious work written by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder, Kobrin said.

Henson, a self-described free speech advocate and Internet geek, said he posted the unpublished work on the World Wide Web in 1996 as part of a message expressing concern about alleged medical and legal abuses contained in Scientology's teachings, Henson said.

Henson claims the teachings amount to a "criminal instruction manual" that give detailed instructions on how to exorcise alien spirits as a method for curing illnesses.

Henson, who has never been a member of the Church of Scientology himself, subscribed to an Internet newsgroup made up of disenchanted Scientology members. He became enraged with the church when the news group was mysteriously deleted from the Internet in 1995, he said.

U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte found that Henson, in posting Scientology's teachings, violated the copyright of Religious Technology Center, a branch of the Church of Scientology that holds the copyright to L. Ron Hubbard's work. Kobrin said most of Hubbard's works are published, but about 1,000 of them remain unpublished at his own request.

"This decision sends another clear message to those who think that laws and property rights are suspended on the Internet," Kobrin said.

--Vicky Anning 

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