Preliminary Injunction Against Anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner Granted

Mere Linking to an Offending Web Page Found Objectionable

On December 6, 1999, the U.S. District Court for the District Utah, Central Division, granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Intellectual Reserve, Inc., a LDS-connected Utah corporation, against Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Inc. and their leaders Jerald and Sandra Tanner. The latter are well-known "career apostates" and among the most vocal critics of the Mormon Church. They had been previously enjoined from publishing in their Web site the "Church Handbook of Instructions", whose copyright is owned by Intellectual Reserve. Since other anti-Mormons subsequently reposted the "Handbook" on their own Web sites, the Tanner offered links to these sites, claiming that this was a way to bypass LDS censorship. The Court has now found the Tanners guilty of contributory infringement through the mere fact of linking, and has ordered the links removed. By providing such links, the Tanners "have actively encouraged the infringement of plaintiff's copyright". No fair use theory applies.

Two additional points are worth noting. Firstly, the fact that the Tanner's intent was to attack and criticize the copyright owner carried a weight in determining the decision (the situation is certainly different when texts are reproduced for scholarly or research purposes, without any attempt at damaging the reputation of the copyright owner). Secondly, the general principle of liability by contribution through linking carries extensive implications and will certainly be used in libel and defamation cases. It seems particularly attractive for slandered religious and other organizations, and will probably play a role in the new cult wars.

See full text of the decision as published by the Tech Law Journal

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Wed, Dec 15, 1999