NL Supreme court ends 10 year old Scientology case
Freedom of speech won in a battle that lasted for a decade between Karin Spaink, a Dutch writer and XS4ALL, her Internet service provider, on one side, and the Church of Scientology, on the other side, which was claiming copyright infringement.
It all began in 1995 when the Church of Scientology attempted to seize the servers of the Internet service provider, XS4ALL, for having hosted a web site where some of the Scientology religious documents were published, claiming the infringement of the copyright.
Hearing of the dispute, Spaink posted the same documents to her own site hosted by Xs4all. Later on she stated: "I got into this because I thought it was important to define how copyright issues are settled online and how ISPs should or should not be held accountable," .
The Church of Scientology filed a copyright lawsuit, asking for the removal of the documents from the respective sites and claiming that the ISP should be responsible for the activities of its subscribers regarding copyright.
But a District Court of Amsterdam decided that the documents were legally posted, based on individuals' rights to quote from any copyrighted material.
In 1999 the Amsterdam court also reflected on the accountability of providers in general. The court concluded that internet providers are themselves not responsible for the material that is disseminated by their customers. However, a provider should take action when has evidence of an obvious illegal or unjustified action. This so-called 'three step procedure' clearly was a source of inspiration for the later e-commmerce directive, which follows a similar reasoning. But different from the e-commerced directive, the Amsterdam court extended the liability also to hyperlinks to copyright infringing material.
Yet, as a victory for XS4ALL, a later decision in 2003 overturned this ruling completely.
Scientologists continued their compaign by criticising Web sites, pressuring site operators, ISPs and even large Internet players such as Google in similar cases. In 1999, Amazon.com removed links to a book critical of Scientology only to restore them later on.
The Supreme Court was to give the last ruling on the case in December 2005, after XS4ALL and Karin Spaink had won the summary proceedings, full proceedings, appeal and dismissal of appeal. I In an attempt to prevent another defeat at the highest court in the Netherlands, the Church of Scientology proceeded to withdraw its appeal at a very late stage. XS4ALL objected strongly, wanting to end the case forever. However, the Supreme Court accepted the Scientology withdrawal and did not judge the merits of the case. Having used all the national means, the Scientology Church cannot go with the case to the European Court, thus making Spaink's victory final.
Final Victory! XS4ALL and Spaink Win Scientology Battle (16.12.2005)
Scientology loss keeps hyperlinks legal (08.09.2003)