David G. Post's article "New World War" (April) about the Church of Scientology's actions to protect its copyrights on the Internet could have taken a far broader view of Internet piracy. As discussed in a recent article in The New York Times, publishers throughout the United States are deeply concerned about copyright violation on the Internet. Simon & Schuster, the largest U.S. publisher, has even hired a computer team to prowl the Internet to locate purloined books.

Mr. Post seems to believe that no effective solution to Internet piracy exists. Copyright law has proven flexible over the centuries and has already survived numerous technological challenges, including the invention of radio, television, and the phonograph. It will conquer the challenge posed by the Internet as well, but only if we correctly identify where the threat is coming from. It is there that Mr. Post has erred.

This is not a battle between "the inhabitants of cyberspace" and the real world, as he seems to think. It is an assault on the Internet by criminal elements who are using the Net for their own purposes. At stake is not only copyright protection, but the survival of the Internet itself.

The majority of Internet users do not steal other people's property off the Net. But on or off the Internet, where the opportunity for crime exists, criminals will take it and sometimes drag innocent bystanders along with them. The solution does not lie in government regulation but in vigorous application of existing laws and in self-regulation by Internet users.

The Church of Scientology has taken the lead in protecting copyrights on the Internet, and so we have earned the ire and abuse of the criminals who are trying to turn the Net into a haven for the lawless. But our actions have gained us a tremendous amount of support from those who really believe in the Internet as a marvelous educational and communications tool.

And, after winning important court victories strengthening copyright protection on the Net, we are moving on to what we really want to do–make full use of the Internet to tell people what Scientology is and to help the Internet develop. In pursuit of that commitment, the church has now launched its own official sites–among the largest and most technically advanced on the World Wide Web.

The volume of hits on our new sites–more than 200,000 in the first couple of days–shows that there is a tremendous demand on the Internet for accurate information about Scientology, which these sites supply. It is through such contributions that the Internet will grow.

Leisa Goodman
Media Relations Director
Church of Scientology International
Los Angeles, CA

David G. Post's article provides an important commentary about the development of Usenet newsgroups as a society. However, because the article focuses exclusively on a group in the anarchistic "alt" hierarchy, it represents Usenet as being less controllable than, in fact, it is.

Far from it being impossible to destroy or control a newsgroup, the mainstream Usenet hierarchies have a formal procedure of proposal, discussion, modification, voting, and announcement which is continuously taking place in newsgroups. Even though a democratic consensus in alt.config is not binding like a semi-official, monitored newsgroup's vote, it would usually be respected. The four conclusions of the article similarly need to be qualified.

Most Usenet participants do not want "a community in which the laws…are ignored." Anonymity is no longer considered respectable in most forums; some groups prohibit all anonymous messages from appearing at all. The control of information is considered necessary for the simple reason that any group which receives hundreds of messages in a day, much less 1,700, becomes impossible to read. Democratically approved moderators and group charters are usually the preferred methods.

You have done a good job of naming several problems which the Usenet community faces as it matures. An essay on the solutions which are being found might make a useful companion piece.

Loren Davis

Having been a Scientologist for over 25 years, and a subscriber to REASON for around five years, I found your article on the church's war on alt.religion.scientology interesting. David Post rightly focuses on the legal issues and challenges of cyberspace, and hits the nail on the head when he states that the Net is an electronic free-for-all, an anarchy that "will require the development of a degree of mutual recognition and respect on both sides of the border between the world of atoms and the world of bits."

I was once a participant in alt.religion.scientology. I quit participating in the "news" group due to the bigotry of the anti-Scientologists there. For all their talk of the church suppressing freedom of speech, I found that each attempt to create a rational, civilized discussion about the pros and cons of the church was drowned in a sea of scathing vitriol and threats. One participant stated that he'd shoot on sight any member of the church who appeared at his door.

Because of the name of my religion in the newsgroup's name, alt.religion.scientology is essentially the equivalent of a neo-Nazi outpost with a banner over the door that reads "NAACP Meeting Hall." Unsuspecting Scientologists who are unaware of what goes on there post a note that says "Hi guys, what's up?" and get replies ranging from "Hello, you ignorant dupe" to downloads of bastardized confidential (and copyrighted, even if altered) material. Our tenets and beliefs are openly ridiculed (not "discussed in an open forum"), Scientologists are called "culties" and worse, and of course, we never speak for ourselves, but are really mouthpieces and puppets of Evil Leaders of the Evil Church. Alt.religion.scientology is, in short, a bigoted cesspool.

The problem with the law is that our Advanced Technology, which makes up less than 1 percent of Scientology's materials, is not something that we want published and there really is no law that supports absolute ownership of text data. This goes beyond cyberspace law and into copyright law itself. We, as Scientologists, do not want this data disseminated beyond our doors. Any and all copies that are on the Internet are copied from physical papers that have been stolen from the church, since the church does not allow copies to leave its premises. We have our own reasons for this, but it is surely not to prevent a reasoned discussion of Scientology and the anti-Scientologists know this.

I often wonder what would happen if someone created a group called "alt.religion.judaism" effectively run by rabid anti-Semites? How long before the outcry would become deafening–to the point where Congress would overreact and pass the "Internet Big Brother Omnibus Bill of 1996" banning all discussion of religion or race on the net? It is up to us netizens to quickly develop a code of ethics that allows meaningful and free discussion while still respecting the rights of others and what others consider sacred. The anarchy of alt.religion.scientology (and other alt.* groups, for that matter) cannot continue, even in cyberspace, so we better define it now, on our own terms, rather than wait for the inevitable Big Black Boot to crush it.

Mark Patterson
Santa Clara, CA

David Post replies: I did not mean to suggest, as Leisa Goodman would have it, that "no effective solution to Internet piracy exists." I did indeed try to illustrate some of the difficulties faced by anyone trying to control the dissemination of information, "pirated" or otherwise, on the Net. But I also noted that while "cyberspace may indeed be difficult for territorially based authorities to control…we court danger, and put this remarkable experiment in political life at risk, if we assume that it is impossible to control from within the non-virtual world," and I suggested that "the inhabitants of cyberspace, too, must develop mechanisms to recognize and respect the legitimate interests of individuals outside their borders"–sentiments that I suspect Ms. Goodman shares. And I am pleased that the Church of Scientology recognizes the significant role that "self-regulation by Internet users" will play in solving the Net's problems, and also that the church is moving to "make full use of the Internet to tell people what Scientology is." The Net will be a richer marketplace of ideas when users have access to all sides of controversial questions.

As to Loren Davis's points concerning the Usenet newsgroups, I fully concur in the notion that the "alt" Usenet hierarchy is somewhat unusual, and that many, and perhaps most, of the moderated Usenet newsgroups outside this hierarchy are developing rules–including "[d]emocratically approved moderators and group charters"–under which each individual Usenet community will operate. This is precisely what I had in mind when I wrote that the Net provides ample opportunities for new forms of community self-governance, through which "[t]he consent of the governed can move from being a theoretical construct to a real principle of governance. No longer will we need to theorize about the content of the laws that people would choose if they were free to do so; the Net will reveal those preferences for us by means of the invisible hand of a worldwide open market for laws, with communities competing for adherence." The flip side of which is illustrated by Mark Patterson's charge that alt.religion.scientology is a "bigoted cesspool." Obviously, Mr. Patterson is unhappy with the operation of this particular community. But the wonderful thing about cyberspace, as I noted in my article, is that there is "an infinite amount of space, and movement between on-line communities is entirely frictionless….Those who find the rules oppressive or unfair may simply leave and join another community (or start their own)." I suspect this is precisely what Mr. Patterson has done.

Disrespecting Elder

There is good reason why Larry Elder is dubbed "the most racist, anti-Black talk show host in Southern California," as you quote someone saying in the introduction to your interview with Mr. Elder ("Elder Statesman," April). While crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and other ills are on the increase outside the black community, Larry Elder presents these ills as black problems rather than American problems. He lets the majority population off the hook on these and other issues as well. Consider redlining. If there are "economic reasons for that," Elder neglects to comment on why the practice doesn't extend to suburban areas where business failures and home foreclosures have been epidemic in recent years.

In another arena, he rarely, if ever, criticizes preferential programs like legacies, which account for more college admissions than affirmative action. While Mr. Elder rails against UCLA admitting people based on race and sex, the Los Angeles Times prints a scathing expose of how the rich and well-connected gain admission to the UC system ahead of better qualified applicants. Among those asking for such admissions are the very regents who voted to discontinue race-based considerations.

Larry Elder's rantings about preferential treatment don't include the movie industry, either. Black underrepresentation in Hollywood was the focus of attention as this town's major industry–where nepotism and other closed-door policies are rampant–celebrated the Academy Awards. Were the entertainment business simply driven by market forces, the red carpet would be rolled out for black filmmakers, a group that consistently delivers very cost-effective and profitable product.

Would the Larry Elder Show be as successful if race were not central to its format? Elder's detractors believe he has advanced ratings and career by exploiting blacks.

Ayana Green
Los Angeles, CA

You Don't Need a Village

I enjoyed the review of Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village by Gwen J. Broude ("It Takes a Bureaucracy," April). I am employed by my state government to investigate child sexual abuse cases. In that role I see severely traumatized children; yet even these children are rarely shattered by the events they have experienced. As Ms. Broude pointed out, children are generally not that delicate.

If given proper care and nurturing, they generally move on with their lives, and family resources are usually available to help those children through the tough times. If the immediate family cannot address the problem, the extended family or family friends probably can. A government agency probably cannot. There are far too many children in the custody of the state. A government agency, even one with foster parents, is a poor substitute for a long-term nurturing family. Mrs. Clinton's "village" (the government) is not a village at all, as Ms. Broude pointed out in her review. The best thing the government can do in most traumatic situations is to help find the right family member or friend to address the problem and get out of the way.

Dale Wallace
State of Tennessee
Child Protective Services

Private Social Statism?

Rick Henderson's article "Retirement Plans" (March) perpetuates myths about Social Security reform. According to rhetoric, several plans now exist on the Hill and among libertarian think tanks which would "privatize" Social Security. This is false. Even the plans promoted by the Cato Institute call for replacing the current Social Insecurity scam with another statist plan under which savings levels would be mandated by the government and savings programs would be regulated by the government.

We're stuck with the commitments the government has made to the elderly and those nearing retirement. What we can do now is stop the cycle of wealth transfer from working people to retired people, and return to a system in which people prepare for retirement by investing in industry. But we ought to allow working people to invest or consume their wealth as they believe best, not as government wishes.

There seems to be a tacit belief that transforming the Social Security system into a mandatory savings system would somehow mystically alleviate the financial burdens of paying off current and upcoming Social Security beneficiaries. But if we are to end Social Insecurity, somebody's got to eat the current burden. It is a separate issue how workers will save after Social Security.

Ari Armstrong
Arvada, CO

Rick Henderson replies: I state in the article: "None of the reform plans under consideration would make Social Security voluntary and let individuals withdraw from the system by renouncing any benefits they might receive. Instead the proposals are all variations on forced savings plans." Granted, I used the term privatization to describe these coercive schemes, but my task wasn't to concoct my ideal retirement system. It was to report on the changing political scene and examine what Congress might enact in the next few years. I would hope Mr. Armstrong would acknowledge that adopting the British- or Chilean-style proposals, while coercive, would establish a property right in "Social Security" and could prevent the huge tax increases the current system must impose to keep up with demographic demands. These alternatives may not be perfect, but they're a big improvement over what's there now.

Campaign Finance

I appreciated Brian Doherty's insightful piece on the $808,000 campaign finance disclosure fine levied against Steve Cicero and myself ("Disclosure Flaw," March). We need help to fight this unjust fine and the unconstitutional regulations behind it. We now have a defense fund and donations to it are tax deductible.

Contributions can be made to the Institute for Constitutional Rights; write "CAC Defense Fund" in the check memo. The mailing address is: ICR, c/o Citizens Against Corruption, 1601 N. Sepulveda Blvd. #229, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266.

Russ Howard
Citizens Against Corruption
Manhattan Beach, CA