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Taking a WikiLeak

Posted by Skeptigator on May 14, 2008

Ars Technica has published an article, Mormons, Scientologist face uphill battle againsts Wikileaks.

Wikileaks is like wikipedia, the user-maintained, free encyclopedia, however it focuses on providing a forum for getting information, whatever it may be, out to the public.

This is essentially a free speech project. They are dedicated to “developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis”. That is certainly an ambitious goal. I am, personally, all for it. I wish them the best of luck, they are beginning to take on some of the most litigious groups in existence.

How can we promote FreeThought,

… a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logical principles and not be comprised by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. …

if, as a society, we don’t have access to information that would better inform our decisions. What I find particularly interesting, even damning, is the lengths to which religious groups go to actively suppress information regarding their practices and beliefs. I can understand a particular company or even the military (both within limits) having a problem with this practice since the former may lose a competitive advantage or the latter having our troops or even nations safety compromised. However what I don’t understand is a religious groups issue.

What does that say about your beliefs, religion and worldview if you send copyright infringement notices to attempt to squelch free speech. A copyright infringement? Do I have to pay royalties to worship your god? (I’m sure there’s a tithing joke in there somewhere.) Is that God™ ? Or just Mormon™?

Do you see how quickly these intellectual property/copyright infringement actions open yourselves to ridicule and ultimately serve to reinforce the “Mormons/Scientologists are just a secretive cult” stereotypes? Perhaps, the stereotype is based on truth but ultimately it is only within in the power of those groups to change those stereotypes.

Despite appearances I really don’t have any problem with those who hold religious beliefs. Really I don’t. I do have a problem however when someone attempts to use the government to enforce their religious beliefs or spends my money (tax dollars) to support someone’s religious practices. I am also concerned when groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices. This goes against the spirit of a number of core values in Western society,  namely, the right to self-determination and freedome of conscience.

Good luck to Wikileaks.org

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13 Responses to “Taking a WikiLeak”

  1. Keith said

    It doesn’t say anything about your religious beliefs if you don’t want someone to reproduce your copyrighted material. Why shouldn’t religions be able to copyright intellectual property? Why should someone else profit from the writings of religious leaders? Or conversely if I wrote a book about my religious belief, should someone else be able to reprint it, sell it, or put it up on the web and essentially profit from my writing?

  2. It doesn’t say anything about your religious beliefs if you don’t want someone to reproduce your copyrighted material.

    We’ll have to disagree here because I think it really does say something about your religious beliefs. What do you have to hide? Are you trying to trick someone into believing something?

    It smells like obfuscation. It lacks transparency.

    Why should someone else profit from the writings of religious leaders?

    I don’t think wikileaks is profiting from this, in fact, most everything they are doing is well within the realm of fair use.

  3. Keith said

    What does it mean to “trick” someone into believing something? If I write a book (religious or otherwise) and copyright it, I am not “tricking” anyone into reading it, believing it or even liking it. I am just staking claim to my intellectual property. Take Joel Osteen, the guy writes best-selling book about religion and life. I am sure he copyrights his books. Does the copyright have some mind altering power that “tricks” people into believing him. Should Wikileaks be able to publish it on their website? If Wikileaks is allowed to do it, then why can’t any other website post other’s intellectual property and profit from it?

  4. I think you misunderstand what I’m saying, or perhaps what is happening here.

    These copyright infringement lawsuits are not attempts to prevent another organization from profiting from the sale or distribution of the information. They are clear and blatant attempts to prevent the information from being publicly available. period.

    It has nothing to do with profit it has everything to do with preventing the dissemination of information that these organizations do not want people to know.

  5. Keith said

    Is it possible that the Scientologists or the Mormons object to their info being posted on Wikileaks because Wikileaks isn’t interested in presenting an objective view of their religion or putting their documentation in context. Wikileaks appears to be only interested in airing “dirty laundry”. I suspect that no organization wants internal documentation in that type of “gotcha” arena.

    Internal documents, by definition, assume institutional knowledge and provide little context. So most internal documentation (whether religious, govt, or private) either sounds strange or makes little sense to someone without that insitutional knowledge.

    Not surprising the churches request that their internal info be removed from that type of forum. Is it possible it is more about the venue than the info? Or are you certain that the churches actually want to “trick” people? If so, what dirty “tricks” do these documents reveal?

  6. Why are their internal and hidden aspects of your religion? Why not operate in a more transparent way?

    Perhaps more importantly now that this information is out there, give us the missing context. Instead of taking this as an opportunity to “spread the word” they go on the attack. And it’s not just this one instance, there is a pattern that these organizations (Scientology, in particular) have practiced over the years and are beginning to earn a reputation.

    Again, you’ve gotten yourself stuck on the word “trick”. Re-read the rhetorical questions from my original post and they are not a statement of fact they are an attempt to understand the underlying motivations.

  7. Keith said

    Here is an example of “internal and hidden” aspects of my employer – a large public university. An internal document might say, “You need to use your G-Number and your password to access the Banner System.”
    Now, if you wanted to believe my university had something to hide, you would read that and say, “Oh my gosh! They have secret numbers and passwords and secrets systems that they access that they don’t tell anyone about! Unbelievable!”

    But if you read an external documentation for new hires or someone outside the organization, it might right, “The school will assign a G-number so that the employee doesn’t have give out his or her social security number. The employee then sets up an account on the payroll system – the Banner System – that will allow you to access your pay stubs and W-2.”

    I can’t speak for Scientologists, but I will speak for Mormons. I have a Handbook of Instructions (which is posted on Wikileaks). It has a lot of church policies (not doctrine, which is available to anyone) that are little or no use to someone who isn’t a church leader. For example, if you read, “A ward clerk is set apart by a member of the stake presidency.” That sentence probably wouldn’t make much sense to someone outside the church.

    So, go ahead and read the Handbook of Instructions and let me know what the parts where you think the Church is saying, “We tell people X, but we really believe Y.” Then ask me about it and I will provide the context. Or look it up on LDS.org (either in “Serving in the Church” or in the “Doctrine and Covenants”, which provide context and doctrine). As I said, I suspect the Church cares more about the venue (Wikileaks) than the info posted. If you know otherwise then I would be interested hearing it.

  8. So, go ahead and read the Handbook of Instructions and let me know what the parts where you think the Church is saying, “We tell people X, but we really believe Y.”

    I have read it and it’s quite boring to me. I never claimed they were tricking anyone, I can only counter your strawman but quoting myself from the original article highlghting the closest I came to saying that but in the context of my original, general statement.

    Despite appearances I really don’t have any problem with those who hold religious beliefs. Really I don’t. I do have a problem however when someone attempts to use the government to enforce their religious beliefs or spends my money (tax dollars) to support someone’s religious practices. I am also concerned when groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices. This goes against the spirit of a number of core values in Western society, namely, the right to self-determination and freedom of conscience.

    If you want my opinion specifically regarding the LDS (and not the general statement above), I believe that the LDS is attempting to obscure their practices. Scientologists have demonstrably attempted to hide their true beliefs. Is that specific enough?

    As I said, I suspect the Church cares more about the venue (Wikileaks) than the info posted. If you know otherwise then I would be interested hearing it.

    You suspect and I suspect. I don’t know the “real reasons” and I doubt you do either. It doesn’t really matter because the entire point of my article was to:

    1) highlight a free speech project,
    2) discuss the problems/dilemmas this project will/may face,
    3) give commentary on the actions by groups (with PR problems already) that reinforce reputations, deserved or otherwise.

    It appears your initial comments were a defense of a religious group to control free speech but now appears that your comments fit into item #2 which is to highlight the potential problem a site like this can suffer from and that is the removal of the information from the appropriate context.

    Unfortunately Mormon words don’t quite match with Mormon actions,

    In mid-April, Wikileaks took on the Mormon church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, releasing the secret version of the church’s Handbook of Instructions.

    The materials, not available even to most Mormons, included information on how the church hierarchy deals with matters of discipline, excommunication and apostasy.

    The church issued legal warnings demanding that the information be taken down, and even sent threats to the Wikimedia Foundation — the not-for-profit that operates WikiNews and Wikipedia — for linking to the material in a WikiNews article.

    LDS church spokesman Michael Purdy wrote in an e-mail that there is nothing particularly newsworthy in the material and said it is used as “a reference guide to assist local Church leaders in managing Church affairs.

    “However,” he wrote, “the material is copyrighted. Copyright infringement is a concern for many organizations.”

    The Wikimedia Foundation — which has no relation to the watchdog group — removed the documents. Wikileaks refused.

    So far, neither religious group has taken its copyright complaint to the courts.

    “I suspect the Mormons are smart enough not to take the next step,” Assange said.

    But Assange said if they do move forward, Wikileaks would welcome a lawsuit.

    “The lawsuits validate the documents we released and bring attention to other people who are revealing incriminating information about these or other organizations,” he said.

    But the group defends its motives, saying that exposing secret information empowers people, as in the case of the Mormon church document.

    “The document is not available to the public or to women in the Mormon church. In fact, a number of Mormon women wrote us describing how happy they were to see this information listed,” Assange said.

    From here,
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,368315,00.html

  9. Keith said

    You originally said, “Do you see how quickly these intellectual property/copyright infringement actions open yourselves to ridicule and ultimately serve to reinforce the “Mormons/Scientologists are just a secretive cult” stereotypes?”

    That is an excellent point and that logic can stand on its own merits. However, the argument that preceded and followed that point didn’t follow any clear logical progression. It reads like you had a preconceived notion of Scientologists and Mormons and you just wanted to make derogatory statements in the guise of a free speech exercise.

    First, you ask, “What does that say about your beliefs, religion and worldview if you send copyright infringement notices to attempt to squelch free speech?” It says nothing. If Wikileaks posted Joel Osteen’s books on-line, they would be getting a letter from Osteen’s lawyers. The purpose of a copyright is to not prevent free speech but to protect intellectual property.

    When I questioned the protection of intellectual property and not wanting others to profit from your writing, you said, “It has nothing to do with profit it has everything to do with preventing the dissemination of information that these organizations do not want people to know.” Really?? Because you originally wrote, “Do I have to pay royalties to worship your god?” That implies that money is at the heart of the copyright issue.

    But, since you now say profit really wasn’t the Mormon’s motive, that statement really served no purpose but mock the religion. Then you feign like you don’t have an agenda but saying, “Despite appearances I really don’t have any problem with those who hold religious beliefs. Really I don’t.”

    Then you say, “I do have a problem however when someone attempts to use the government to enforce their religious beliefs or spends my money (tax dollars) to support someone’s religious practices.” So do I. Do Mormons or Scientologists use the government to enforce religious beliefs or use tax dollars? I am not aware that either religion does that. Maybe you can provide evidence. This copyright issue has nothing to do with that.

    You then say, “I am also concerned when groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices.” But, when I ask how the Mormon’s Handbook of Instructions does obscure their true beliefs, you reply, “I have read it and it’s quite boring to me. I never claimed they were tricking anyone.” Since Handbook of Instructions is an innocuous book of church policy, this copyright has nothing to do with your original contention that “groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices.”

    Your conclude with, “Unfortunately Mormon words don’t quite match with Mormon actions” and cite an article saying the Mormon’s sent a letter requesting that Wikileaks take down their copyrighted material. Did the Mormon’s ever say that they didn’t mind if websites post their copyrighted material? I am not aware of anyone who appreciates copyright violations. In fact, I think Mormons have made it clear that they don’t want people using their copyrighted material to further the agenda of a website. So, Mormon actions seem pretty consistent with what they have been saying.

    I appreciate your forthright admission, “I believe that the LDS is attempting to obscure their practices.” OK. Great. But, the Mormon Handbook of Instruction, this copyright issue, and the whole logic of this article don’t provide any evidence to support or refute that belief or any of the other allegations you throw out there.

  10. That is an excellent point and that logic can stand on its own merits. However, the argument that preceded and followed that point didn’t follow any clear logical progression. It reads like you had a preconceived notion of Scientologists and Mormons and you just wanted to make derogatory statements in the guise of a free speech exercise.

    To the first part, I’m not a professional writer. The flow seems ok to me, all 3 point seemed to connect the idea that people should have the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and that if they are going to believe in an organization’s tennants then they should also know how it operates.

    Derogatory statements? Criticism and derogatory statements are two different things

    P.S. Sorry for the delay on this, I’ve been in DC for the last week.

    First, you ask, “What does that say about your beliefs, religion and worldview if you send copyright infringement notices to attempt to squelch free speech?” It says nothing. If Wikileaks posted Joel Osteen’s books on-line, they would be getting a letter from Osteen’s lawyers. The purpose of a copyright is to not prevent free speech but to protect intellectual property.

    Apples and Oranges my friend. Joel Osteen’s works are freely available to purchase. There is nothing “secret” about them. You can go to a bookstore and buy it or go the library if you don’t want to spend your money.

    When I questioned the protection of intellectual property and not wanting others to profit from your writing, you said, “It has nothing to do with profit it has everything to do with preventing the dissemination of information that these organizations do not want people to know.” Really?? Because you originally wrote, “Do I have to pay royalties to worship your god?” That implies that money is at the heart of the copyright issue.

    The rhetorical question was asked to highlight that the issue of copyright is being used to stop the open exchange of information. Money is obviously not the issue and I don’t see anyone making that statement.

    But, since you now say profit really wasn’t the Mormon’s motive, that statement really served no purpose but mock the religion. Then you feign like you don’t have an agenda but saying, “Despite appearances I really don’t have any problem with those who hold religious beliefs. Really I don’t.”

    “…since you now say” as opposed to when I *was* saying it? I missed the part where I was saying it. This was never about the money (at least for the Mormons, Scientology I can’t say the same thing)

    As for mocking the religion, you could interpret this that way but I will clarify that this is a commentary on the actions of those making the decisions within the LDS. If you want a critique of the Mormon religion itself, you’ll have to go somewhere else because that is not the purpose of this post.

    Then you say, “I do have a problem however when someone attempts to use the government to enforce their religious beliefs or spends my money (tax dollars) to support someone’s religious practices.” So do I. Do Mormons or Scientologists use the government to enforce religious beliefs or use tax dollars? I am not aware that either religion does that. Maybe you can provide evidence. This copyright issue has nothing to do with that.

    Convenient that you ended my quote before the actual point I was trying to make.

    You then say, “I am also concerned when groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices.” But, when I ask how the Mormon’s Handbook of Instructions does obscure their true beliefs, you reply, “I have read it and it’s quite boring to me. I never claimed they were tricking anyone.” Since Handbook of Instructions is an innocuous book of church policy, this copyright has nothing to do with your original contention that “groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices.”

    I already addressed that.

    Your conclude with, “Unfortunately Mormon words don’t quite match with Mormon actions” and cite an article saying the Mormon’s sent a letter requesting that Wikileaks take down their copyrighted material. Did the Mormon’s ever say that they didn’t mind if websites post their copyrighted material? I am not aware of anyone who appreciates copyright violations. In fact, I think Mormons have made it clear that they don’t want people using their copyrighted material to further the agenda of a website. So, Mormon actions seem pretty consistent with what they have been saying.

    Words not matching actions wasn’t the best way to convey what I meant (remember the *not* a professional writer thing). Now that I’ve re-read let me clarify my point. It’s the “this is just an administrative document that isn’t newsworthy but we’ll send a legal threat and make this news” aspect of the LDS spokeperson’s comments that seemed like what he says doesn’t match what they say the documents really are.

    I appreciate your forthright admission, “I believe that the LDS is attempting to obscure their practices.” OK. Great. But, the Mormon Handbook of Instruction, this copyright issue, and the whole logic of this article don’t provide any evidence to support or refute that belief or any of the other allegations you throw out there.

    I think that sending legal notification of copyright infringement to a website that is not “sellling” your information is an attempt to obscure their practices. It is 100% an issue of controlling and preventing the spread of information regarding the practices of a religion, which is the point of this post.

  11. Keith said

    Bottom line – a website designed to “air dirty laundry” puts up copyrighted material owned by the LDS church and the LDS church asked them to take it down. You can’t infer anything from that story unless you are anti-mormon and a conspiracy theorist.

    On another note, why do you care and why did you read the handbook of instruction? And, if you read it, why do you continue to imply it says anything that “obscures” LDS practices when you already admitted it is an innocuous book of church policy.? That is what is most baffling.

  12. Bottom line – a website designed to “air dirty laundry” puts up copyrighted material owned by the LDS church and the LDS church asked them to take it down. You can’t infer anything from that story unless you are anti-mormon and a conspiracy theorist.

    You are correct I can’t and don’t infer anything as to the motives of the LDS. My post was a commentary on perception and the effect of their behavior.

    On another note, why do you care and why did you read the handbook of instruction?

    Because I care about the beliefs and practices of millions of my fellow Americans. Their beliefs affect me and people I care about.

    And, if you read it, why do you continue to imply it says anything that “obscures” LDS practices when you already admitted it is an innocuous book of church policy.? That is what is most baffling.

    You are baffled because that’s not what I said. Please remove blinders and re-read. In fact, I will save you the time of thinking and comprehending and point you to the closing sentences of my last comment.

    I think that sending legal notification of copyright infringement to a website that is not “sellling” your information is an attempt to obscure their practices.

    Quick English lesson. “sending legal notification” is the direct object (the thing my thinking is about)

    “of copyright infringement to a website that is not “selling” your information” this is essentially a series of prepositionaly phrases clarifying the direct object. Technically legal notification describes “sending” but for the sake of clarity and keeping this to a 5th grade level I’ll let this stand.

    “is an attempt to obscure their practices” this is the closest I come to any kind of inference in that it highlights the very effect that the direct object has.

    Again in case you missed it, the direct object is NOT the LDS super secret handbook.

    My comments and statements are completely consistent with my post from mid-May. You have again attempted to put words in my mouth or failed to take the time to understand my actual point.

  13. Keith said

    Website X posts material copyrighted by religion Y. Religion Y asks website X to take it down.

    Nothing can be inferred about the religion Y based on those two facts.

    The “sending” (direct object) of the legal notification of copyright infringement cannot be (or imply) an “attempt to obscure the practices” of religion Y if the copyrighted material does not contain information that inconsistent with their public beliefs.

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