Scientologists gag Google

The DMCA kills again

Web search outfit Google has caved in to demands from the 'Church' of Scientology demanding that it delete URLs from its database directing Web surfers to certain pages maintained by Xenu.net, a well-known CoS critic.

In this case the dreaded Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provided the pretext for censorship. Scientology shysters have persuaded Google that it's liable for copyright infringement because Xenu has mirrored excerpts from sacred texts which the cult guards jealously as its intellectual capital.

At issue here is a fairly undefinable limit to fair use, which ensures that we may, if we please, quote a passage from CoS scripture and ridicule it, but not re-publish it. But there is no pre-defined limit to how much copyrighted text may be reproduced for purposes of analysis, criticism, satire or argumentation. The best guidance is the law itself, but this is ambiguous, and appeals to the amount quoted in relation to the whole work. No baseline safe ratio is suggested.

The usual practice is to quote as much as needed to illustrate a point, and no more. The Cult claims that Xenu has quoted more than fair use allows; Xenu feels it's quoted just the right amount to make its points.

However, Google was served with what appears to be a legally-proper DMCA notice, in that it is signed under penalty of perjury and asserts that the complainer has a good-faith belief that copyrights are being violated, so it had no choice but comply.

Google removed references to the disputed pages, but in its eagerness to capitulate to the CoS threat also removed the Xenu.net home page. That little oversight has since been corrected. A Google search for Scientology now yields the Xenu home page in its fourth result, while a search for Xenu yields the home page in its first result.

In order for Google to catalogue the disputed pages again, the Norwegian-based Xenu.net would have to file a counter-notification, which it is apparently unwilling to do lest it become subject to US court jurisdiction. As things stand now, the home page is now listed, and the disputed pages are still available. ®

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