This Week

Issue: "Against all odds," May 30, 1998

Scientology busters undeterred

Two years ago, Keith Henson decided to expose the Church of Scientology by publishing secret information about it. The result was a high-pitched legal battle that will cost him $75,000 in statutory damages. Mr. Henson was one of the leading lights of an online subculture dedicated to debunking the group. He and his colleagues down at the alt.religion.scientology Internet newsgroup say that lawsuits like this will stifle free speech in cyberspace. A year ago, Judge Ronald Whyte ruled that Mr. Henson had infringed on copyrights belonging to Scientology's Religious Technology Center. The plaintiff won a permanent injunction keeping Mr. Henson from reposting Scientology documents on the Net. But he is standing firm. "Judge Whyte puts the defense of intellectual property above the need to inform people," the defendant posted to the Net a few days after the ruling. Meanwhile, a devoted subculture continues to protest the Church of Scientology on the Internet. Detailed information about the group's history, including court transcripts, is on the Web. There's even a weekly digest of recent developments. Right now Mr. Hensen's friends fear Mr. Henson will be assessed his opponents' legal fees and get socked with a $1 million bill. Soon after this decision, another defendant, Grady Ward, whose case was similar to Mr. Hensen's, settled out of court.

B&N settles

"You must be this tall to look at this dirty book." The long arm of the law has intervened to ensure that a Barnes & Noble store in Tennessee keeps pornographic material where the short arm of a child can't reach. A local prosecutor had brought the bookstore chain up on obscenity charges based on three books featuring nude photos of children. Barnes & Noble agreed to shelve the books five feet off the floor so that small fry who can't jump high won't see them. The agreement does not put the brakes on pederasts, however. And Barnes & Noble's woes continue in other parts of the country, with picketers protesting stores in Kansas and New Hampshire and two grand jury indictments pending in Alabama.

United States vs. Microsoft

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Does Microsoft succeed by serving customers? Or is it an 800-pound-gorilla waging a take-no-prisoners fight to dominate the competition? A judge may have to decide. Bill Gates and company must fight a massive antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department and 20 states. The sweeping case, begun last week, claims Microsoft's "choke hold" on competitors is denying consumers important choices about how they buy and use computers. "Microsoft's actions have stifled competition in the operating-system and browser markets," Attorney General Janet Reno said. "But most importantly, it has restricted the choices available for consumers." Her suit accuses the company of trying to crush its biggest Internet competitor, Netscape, after Netscape refused an offer to divide the world's market for Web software. The lawsuits came on the day that Microsoft shipped to computer makers the final version of Windows 98, the latest upgrade to its flagship product. This update (reviewed in WORLD, May 2) merges Microsoft's Web browser into the operating system. That means most users don't need stand-alone software to go surfing. The government claims that's illegal "tying" of separate products, but Microsoft contends its browser is "integrated." That means America's richest man must go to war for his Windows-even though he golfed with the president, invited the vice president to a party at his mansion, and gives money to politically correct causes such as international population control. After nearly two weeks of feverish negotiations with government attorneys, Mr. Gates broke off talks. He said the feds were trying to punish success and wanted too many concessions. "Twenty-three years ago, Paul Allen and I started Microsoft on the principle that technology could dramatically improve people's lives," he told a press conference. "How ironic that in the United States, where freedom and innovation are core values, these regulators are trying to punish an American company that has worked hard and successfully to deliver on these values." Time is on Mr. Gates's side. By the time the case is decided, Windows 98 may be obsolete.The feds needed about a decade to break up the Bell System. In silicon time, 10-year-old software is scarcely remembered. Several technologies now in their infancy could one day change the method of computing made famous by Microsoft's Windows operating system, which runs nearly 90 percent of the world's personal computers. "If they don't get Microsoft to settle, technology might surpass the viability of the lawsuit," said Peter Krasilovsky, an analyst at Arlen Communications. In 10 years, the free market may have chipped away at Microsoft's market share and put the company in the same position as once-unstoppable IBM. Right now, the government seeks an injunction forcing Microsoft to distribute a copy of rival Netscape's software for viewing the Internet with every copy of the latest Windows operating system. Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein said Microsoft could avoid the injunction by selling Internet Explorer separately from Windows 98. Microsoft has said the browser is now inextricably integrated into the Windows 98 operating software-and offering Netscape is like making Coke sell Pepsi. Meanwhile, Mr. Klein wants Congress to hike the budget for his trust-busting staff. He thinks his $95 million annual budget needs to be augmented by "certainly several million dollars."


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