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Judge bars unauthorized biography L. Ron Hubbard

NEW YORK -- A federal judge Tuesday blocked publication of an unauthorized, critical biography of the late L. Ron Hubbard, the controversial author and founder of the Church of Scientology unless certain copyright-protected passages are deleted.

U.S District Court Judge Louis Stanton granted both preliminary and permanent injunctions in favor of New Era Publications International, a Danish corporation related to the church, which is the exclusive licensee of Hubbard's works.

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New Era was authorized to publish a biography of Hubbard, who died in 1986, that will draw on his published and unpublished writings, the judge said.

Jonathan Caven-Atack wrote 'A Piece of Blue Sky,' the contested, unauthorized Hubbard biography that was to be published by Carol Publishing Group.

New Era filed suit because it believed the book would contain copyright materials and to protect its interests in relation to Hubbard in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

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New Era lost a 1988 attempt in the same court to prevent publication of Russell Miller's 'Bare Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard' on a technicality.

The judge said the book was still in its early stages so the decision would have little effect, but a lawyer for the publisher disagreed.

'The book is still in manuscript form, so deletion of the infringing passages will be relatively simple and inexpensive,' Stanton said. 'The only apparent hardships resulting from an injunction are some delay in publication and a more stringent editing process.'

'It's an abysmal decision,' said Melvin Wulf, a lawyer for Carol. 'It shows and abysmal understanding of the First Amendment, copyright and the fair use doctrine. It actually threatens the integrity of the process of scholarship and biography.

'It prohibits the use of materials from the published works of public figures,' he said. 'This opinion can't survive.'

Caven-Atack belonged to the church for almost nine years, according to Stanton's 24-page opinion. During that period he spent time studying church teachings and 'pursuing its ideals.'

'Atack became disillusioned with the church after discovering what he perceived to be abusive practices against dissident church members,' Stanton said. 'Atack came to believe that Scientology is a dangerous cult and that Mr. Hubbard, far from being the gentle prophet portrayed in church literature, was a paranoid, vindictive and profoundly disturbed man.

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'He wrote the book to expose what he believes to be the pernicious nature of the church and the deceit that is the foundation of its teachings,' Stanton said.

Stanton based his ruling on how Caven-Atack used both copyright and other material, not on the contents of the manuscript, which the author turned over to New Era following a judge's order.

'There is a difference between published and unpublished works, even if it is no more than that the use of an unpublished writing misappropriates not only the expression itself but also the author's decision whether to publish it,' said Stanton, pointing to earlier similar cases that 'should be read with that difference in mind.'

'In this case there is too often republication without that criticism or illumination which comprises fair use rather than infringement,' Stanton said.

The judge found the fair use argument fell in favor of New Era.

Another argument, the effect on the market for New Era's planned book, was 'speculative' and inapplicable, the judge said.

While the amount of Hubbard material used by Caven-Atack was relatively small, 'many of the passages lack any allowable fair use purpose,' Stanton said. 'They often are only used as topic headings, as signals in Mr. Hubbard's words of the subject Mr. Atack will next address. That is not fair use but an appropriation.'

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