September 24, 2002 1:05 PM PDT

Net archive silences Scientology critic

Buckling under pressure from the Church of Scientology, the Internet Archive has removed a church critic's Web site from its system.

The Internet Archive, a site that preserves snapshots of old Web pages and bills itself as "a library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form," no longer contains links to archival pages of Xenu.net. Instead, surfers are pointed to a page telling them the site was taken down "per the request of the site owner."

However, Xenu.net operator Andreas Heldal-Lund said he never made any such request. Heldal-Lund, a Norwegian businessman and longtime church critic, said he's eager for people to read archived pages of his site.

"I'm the author, and I never asked that it be removed," he said. "I believe what's happening in this case is important history."

A representative of the Internet Archive said the organization, which is run mostly by volunteers, took the pages down after lawyers for the Church of Scientology "asserted ownership of materials visible through" the site. He said the group replaced the links with a generic error message about blocked sites.

However, the organization removed not only Xenu.net pages containing excerpts from Church of Scientology documents, but also the entire Xenu.net site, which contains pages crafted entirely by Heldal-Lund.

A representative for the Church of Scientology could not immediately be reached for comment.

Under certain provisions of U.S. copyright law, site operators can fight such requests if they think legitimate material is being blocked. However, Heldal-Lund said he wouldn't challenge the decision because the action would put him under U.S. jurisdiction.

Scientologists have taken a notoriously heavy-handed approach to squelching critical Web sites, pressuring site operators, ISPs (Internet service providers), and even Internet heavyweights such as Google into removing links to Web pages.

Most often, Scientology lawyers claim copyrights on materials excerpted from their site, material they are fiercely protective of because members must pay to access it. Many site operators who receive such threatening letters immediately remove the material without questioning whether the pages actually violate copyrights.

In 1999, Amazon.com removed, but later restored, links to a book critical of Scientology.

Most recently, Google responded to threatening letters from Scientology lawyers earlier this year by taking down links to the Xenu site. However, the company reinstated links to the site's front page under pressure from free-speech advocates. The incident prompted Google to revisit its takedown policy. Now it sends copies of such letters to the ChillingEffects.org site, a site run by civil liberties groups designed to educate people about their free-speech rights.

 

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