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Dutch AG upholds decision in Scientology case

Free speech over copyright

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The Dutch Attorney-General has endorsed a verdict seen as backing free speech over copyright in the controversial case between the Church of Scientology and writer Karin Spaink, Dutch ISP Xs4all reports. The Dutch Supreme Court, which will rule on this case on 8 July, had asked the Attorney-General for advice.

The Church of Scientology sued Karin Spaink and her internet service provider Xs4all Internet BV after Spaink posted Scientology documents on her website. In the early 1990s, former Scientologist Steven Fishman, who was brought to court because he had committed several crimes in order to get money to pay for Scientology courses, had used these documents to support his claims that he had been brainwashed. Dutch writer Spaink was one of many to publish these documents as early as 1995.

In September 1995 a bailiff raided the Amsterdam premises of ISP Xs4all to seize material posted by subscribers which the Church of Scientology claimed violated its copyright. The organisation also initiated exhaustive judicial proceedings, but each time the court decided in favour of Spaink. In 2003, the Court of Appeal in The Hague rejected all of the Church of Scientology's claims against Xs4all, writer Spaink and ten other internet providers. The court also overturned two lower court rulings, one of which stated that linking to material that infringed a copyright was itself actionable.

Dutch Attorney-General DWF Verkade has now published an 82 page opinion to the Dutch Supreme Court, in which he upholds the decision that free speech can trump copyright. "Although copyright resides under Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights and can therefore be regarded as a human right, this does not exempt copyright from being balanced against the right to freedom of information," Verkade concludes. It is expected that the Supreme Court will adhere to his advice.

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