Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"MormonLeaks" is a Thing

These days just about everybody has heard of WikiLeaks. I recently found out about MormonLeaks, a website dedicated to posting leaked documents from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The 66 leaked documents posted so far mostly concern the inner workings of the church, and really aren't much of a bombshell. Nonetheless, the church has formally issued a DMCA takedown notice to the site, whose attorney accused the church of attempting censorship.

Gizmodo reported that the church responded with a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice demanding MormonLeaks remove PowerPoint presentations. The group responded via their attorney (PDF) that the group obtained the information legally and is entitled to use and distribute it as a journalistic source. Attorney Marc Randazza cited the church’s response to the musical “Book of Mormon,” which celebrates religious tolerance and free speech.

“Where most religions react to mockery with anger, and sometimes even violence, the LDS Church embraced what others might have considered to be an insult,” he explained in his letter. “There is no better way to demonstrate the strength of your beliefs than to tolerate criticism and mockery of them.”

He went on to argue that the efforts of the LDS church will ultimately be fruitless. Even if his clients deleted the information from their website the documents would still be distributed all over the world. “You tried to blow out a single candle, but in the process, you knocked it over into a field of dried leaves,” he wrote. “You may have extinguished that initial flame. However, your attempted censorship simply caused the document to be further reproduced and redistributed that even a hypothetical divine being could not possibly undo the dissemination.”

Here's one point that the linked article doesn't cover. A lot of people don't realize that you are required by law to defend any and all copyrights you hold, or you could lose them. The first step of that process is a DMCA takedown request. So this may not be about censorship at all. Rather, the leaders of the church may have been informed by their lawyers that they were opening themselves up to potential legal problems by not taking action against MormonLeaks.

The Book of Mormon musical is a totally different thing. The beliefs and history of the LDS church are not under copyright, and the musical is an original composition that is not affiliated with the church in any way. So the same legal burden does not apply, and judging from the response of church leaders, they don't seem to care very much about being made fun of or embarassed or anything like that. So I wonder if the same action would have been taken against MormonLeaks in a world where copyright law is treated differently.

The intent of the church could be more sinister than that, of course. But it doesn't sound like there's much in the leaked documents that is particularly weird or that I haven't heard before from other sources. As "leaks" go, it's actually pretty tame, at least so far. Of course, the church may be issuing the takedown notice now in advance of anything more incriminating that they fear the site might put up.

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