Mormons The Latest To Make Their Secret Documents More Popular By Trying To Take Them Down

from the is-streisand-a-mormon? dept

A couple months ago, in discussing The Streisand Effect with a reporter, the reporter asked if I thought lawyers would one day be accused of malpractice for not informing their clients of the potential implications of demanding some content be pulled off the internet. While I doubt it will reach the point of malpractice, it certainly does make you wonder what some lawyers are thinking when there are such clear examples of what happens when you try to suppress material online. Earlier this year, the lawsuit that brought plenty of new attention to the concept of The Streisand Effect was when a Swiss bank, Julius Baer, convinced a judge to shut down the site Wikileaks for hosting some documents related to a lawsuit Julius Baer was involved in. Of course, not surprisingly, the attempt to shut down Wikileaks got those documents much more attention (and did the same for Wikileaks as well). Eventually, the judge reversed the order and Julius Baer dropped the lawsuit. But the end result showed how badly the strategy backfired on Julius Baer. Before it demanded the documents be taken down, almost no one saw the documents or even knew that the bank was involved in a case that accused of it laundering money. Afterwards, a lot more people knew about the lawsuit and had seen the documents -- and they were still online.

That situation got so much publicity, you would think that anyone would think twice about going down the same path. No such luck. Last month, Scientology threatened Wikileaks for hosting Scientology documents, and this morning (as a whole bunch of folks have sent in) news is coming out that the Mormon Church is threatening Wikileaks as well, for hosting church documents. In this case, the Mormon Church isn't just going after Wikileaks, but also threatened the WikiMedia foundation and document hosting site Scribd. It went after WikiMedia because WikiNews ran an article about the document and linked to them (which is hardly copyright infringement). Scribd was apparently hosting a copy of the documents as well (since taken down). Wikileaks, however, true to its charter, is refusing to take down the documents.

While you can understand why the Church might not like it's documents being made public, it does seem ridiculous that whoever decided to start threatening everyone didn't do the most basic research to recognize what would happen as soon as they threatened sites. Given what happened with Julius Baer, it should have been abundantly clear that threatening Wikileaks would almost guarantee that the documents were both more widely seen than before and copied widely across the internet.

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  1. identicon
    Tracy Hall Jr, 14 May 2008 @ 1:17pm

    The Church has good reason and every right not to publish its Handbook

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not try to protect its "beliefs" from public scrutiny. Why else would more than 50,000 missionaries labor to share their beliefs around the world, at their own expense?

    I have, at times, been authorized to consult The Handbook of Instructions. But even if it should remain on the Internet I will not read it now, because I no longer have that authorization. It certainly contains nothing of a conspiratorial nature, or evil, or of any kind of threat to the public that might justify violating its copyright for any supposed "public good."

    Unlike most religions, The Church of Jesus Christ has no paid ministry. Its local leaders are lay members who have families and occupations. They do not ask to serve nor even plan to serve; rather, they are called to serve. They typically serve less than a decade. The Handbook of Instructions is a guide to leaders who come to their positions with no prior training. It is distributed to them to ensure that Church policies and procedures are uniform around the world. (By the way, only a few brief chapters pertaining to particular programs are available at Distribution Services.)

    Unlike most other churches, we also do not decide which congregation we attend: we attend the ward in whose boundaries we reside. This obviously establishes a need for uniformity of policy and procedure. (You can learn the place and meeting times of your nearest congregation by selecting the link "worship with us" at and entering your address.)

    Any members of the Church who has a question about doctrine or policy can ask his bishop, who can consult the Handbook. However, leaders are encouraged to prayerfully adapt these guidelines to particular needs and circumstances.

    If the Handbook were published, it could tempt some members to take a legalistic approach to policies and procedures and try to see just how close they could come to "crossing the line." Publication could also tempt some members who have more time on their hands than their leaders to make a hobby of knowing the handbook "better" than them, which could undermining their efforts to prayerfully adapt policies to particular circumstances.

    The Church has every right to control distribution of its Handbook of Instructions. Copyright protects not just the right to publish, but also the right not to publish.


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