Scientologists shut ISP's Net connection

By Matt Loney, News.com
Published on ZDNet News: Mar 22, 2002 2:30:00 PM
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The apparent campaign by the Church of Scientology to stamp out criticism on the Internet resulted in the ISP that hosts a Web site targeted by the Church for its critical standpoint having its upstream connection cut off.

Netherlands-based ISP Xtended Internet said its connection to the Internet was terminated by its provider after threats of legal action from the Church. Paul Wouters, managing director of Xtended Internet, said he believed this was the first time an ISP had suffered such action because of copyright issues.

The issue centers on a Web site called xenu.net, which appears to have attracted the Scientologists' attention for documenting the practices of the Church, and in particular for including some material that is copyrighted by the Church. On the site, Webmaster Andreas Heldal-Lund defends this by saying that if full information about the teachings of the Church were made available "then perhaps many people who would join it would never become involved with it in the first place. I think people have the right to know."

The Church seems to disagree. On Wednesday, it issued a notice under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act against Google, instructing the search engine to remove links to the xenu.net pages in question. (Editor's note: Google restored the Scientology links on Thursday.)

But this was not the Church's first attempt to remove the xenu.net content from the Web. In November, Xtended Internet's upstream provider, Cignal Global Communications, received a letter from the Church of Scientology's legal counsel notifying it of the copyright and trademark issues with xenu.net. The letter did not threaten legal action, but set in motion a train of events that would see Xtended Internet kicked off Cignal's service by the end of February.

Upon receiving the letter, Cignal's director of legal affairs Steve Keirn wrote to Paul Wouters notifying him of the contents and reminding him of Cignal's acceptable use policy. Wouters wrote back saying that the issue was between his customer (xenu.net) and the Church of Scientology, and should not involve either Cignal or Xtended Internet.

A couple of weeks later, the Church of Scientology issued a second notification to Cignal, and this time Cignal demanded action by Xtended Internet or else, it said, Xtended Internet would be cut off. Paul Wouters wrote a detailed reply to Cignal, saying that any action based on the evidence that had been provided to date would have been in violation of Dutch laws, and said he "strongly objected to the notion that US law has any relevance to our obligation in the Netherlands."

Wouters did concede that since Cignal was a US-based company, the use of the DMCA might provide an easy resolution, but said more evidence of infringement was required before he could proceed.

By now, Cignal had been bought by another US company, called Priority Telecom and the next letter that Wouters received was a notice of termination of service, giving Xtended Internet 30 days to search for a new backbone provider.

"We had to move our entire company to a new backbone provider," Wouters told ZDNet UK. "It has cost us money and time, but was nothing we could not handle." Xtended Internet is now housed at TeleCity, the Amsterdam Internet exchange. "This facility is carrier-independent," he added, "so we do not have to rely on a single upstream provider."

But Wouters said he intended to continue hosting xenu.net. "This customer is definitely not a profitable one, but we believe in freedom of speech," he said. "This is their (the Scientologists') tactics. But with the Internet people can exchange information and share information on lawsuits (by the Church)." Because of this, said Wouters, "the Internet is the first major obstacle Scientology has had. That is why xenu.net is so important -- it is a collection of the criticisms."

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