The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, which oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has sent legal notices to a watchdog group demanding the takedown of documents describing what Witnesses say and share with each other in private.
Because nothing would hurt the Witnesses more than their beliefs being exposed to a wider audience…
The subject of the notices is the Truth and Transparency Foundation, which runs FaithLeaks, a site that hosts confidential documents about religious groups. The TTF says that the Witnesses issued four takedown requests for a total of 63 documents late last year.
All but two of the documents are related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ annual regional convention. Each year, religious leaders from Watch Tower tour different regions of the world to attend and speak at conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses where members are instructed and educated. These leaders include a group of eight men known as the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the highest leaders of the institution.
Among the documents are the content and outlines of talks given in the 2016 and 2017 tours. The TTF has also published content of the 2018 convention, but these were not included in the takedown request.
All the documents in question had previously been uploaded to AvoidJW.org last year but then taken down in April. The documents have since found their way onto FaithLeaks.
If you look at some of the documents themselves, there’s nothing in particular that’s damning… other than general expressions of JW beliefs. (Weirdly enough, the actual videos from last year’s regional conventions, also published on FaithLeaks, were not subjects of the takedown notices.) So what’s the big deal?
The JW attorney says TTF is “reproducing and distributing Watch Tower’s intellectual property illegally and without authorization.” For now, however, TTF isn’t budging. Their own lawyer says they’re not violating the law because FaithLeaks “neither seeks nor receives any remuneration for the information.” The documents also fall under fair use protections, they say, allowing them to be shared for purposes like “criticism, comment,… or research.” Unlike a creative work like a song or object, which is what the infringement laws are meant to protect, these outlines are merely bits of information. Finally, says the lawyer, the fact that these documents are on FaithLeaks “is not likely to interfere with the market for Watch Tower’s materials to its followers.”
By trying to take the documents down, the Witnesses may unwittingly call even more attention to the documents they don’t want seen by the public, like a religious Streisand effect.
Ethan Dodge, the technical director for TTF, told me in an email that this was a “frivolous” claim by the Witnesses and one that’s not likely to succeed in court:
It’s not uncommon for religious institutions to frivolously use claims of copyright infringement as a means of censorship, especially against people and organizations with little legal power. The fact of the matter is, what these men are saying in these documents is gospel to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Researchers benefit greatly from these types of documents and research is protected under fair use. Additionally, in the takedown notices, Watch Tower recognizes that none of these documents are published on their site, which begs the question, why not? That fact makes this newsworthy, which is also protected under fair use.
For now, you can see all the documents in question using the links described here.
(Image via Shutterstock)