6.805 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Ethics and the Law on the Electronic Frontier


Road Map to: The Church of Scientology vs. the Net

The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.
-- L. Ron Hubbard
Starting in 1995, some of the “secret scripture” of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard began circulating on the Net. These texts, called the “OT” (Operating Thetan) documents, are normally shown only to people who have completed long regimens of Scientology “auditing” at a cost of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to the OT documents, the real purpose of auditing is cleanse oneself of “body thetans”, which are the remnants of people “processed” 75 million years ago by Xenu, Head of the Galactic Federation, in an attempt to alleviate overpopulation. The documents contain the story of Xenu, and describe extensive collections spiritual exercises.

The Church claims that distribution of these materials on the Net constitutes copyright and trade secret infringement. It has pursued an aggressive legal campaign against people who post these materials, including obtaining court orders that permit them to seize computer systems (which is permissible under the copyright statute) and filing lawsuits. They have also brought suit against the Washington Post for publishing an article describing the OT documents and the computer seizures. Meanwhile, the documents remain available on the net, moving from site to site as the Church institutes new legal actions.

If you decide to look into this case, be prepared to wade through masses of claims and counterclaims, and also to run across some interesting tidbits (such as the fact that the Scientology lawyer supervising many of the seizures is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Boston University).

Here are some places to start:

  • Robinson, Michael. “Operating Thetan Summary and Analysis.” 1st ed. September 12, 1995.
  • The Fishman Papers page, maintained by Dave Touretzky of CMU.

At present, the OT documents are on-line, partially at CMU and (for the contested parts) in the Netherlands:

The Fishman Papers