Watchtower Observer vs. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society

Article published by Watchman Fellowship in 2000

Kent Steinhaug, a former Jehovah’s Witness in Norway, frequently posts documents embarrassing to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society on his Watchtower Observer Web site (Note: Article removed – URL retained for reference).

His posting of such files as an alleged copy of the Watchtower’s Branch Office policy manual, as well as a letter in which the Society allegedly tells the Czechoslovakian government that they do not forbid members from obtaining blood transfusions or performing civil service, has been ignored by the Brooklyn headquarters and thus their authenticity cannot be verified (Steinhaug refused to comment on the documents). His posting in 1996 of the copyrighted Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock, however, quickly prompted an angry response from the Society that resembles the Church of Scientology’s earlier reaction to the posting of secret documents on the Internet.

Steinhaug has carefully documented his history of inciting threats of legal action from Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1995 a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses operating a private e-mail group infiltrated by Steinhaug unsuccessfully petitioned to have his Internet access revoked (“How Do JWs react to an E-mail?” Note: Article removed – URL retained for reference).

When he violated copyright laws by posting the entire elders’ manual, the Society itself quickly threatened legal action against his Internet Service Provider, Telenor Online AS (“English Translation of Leter (sic) to Telenor Online.” Note: Article removed – URL retained for reference); the manual was shortly thereafter removed from the site (“The Watchtower Observer – ‘Pay Attention .” Note: Article removed – URL retained for reference).

Nonetheless, on March 4, 1997, Steinhaug and another Norwegian critic of the Watchtower were summoned by police after the Society filed a complaint for violation of copyright laws (“Ex-JWs Summoned to Police Station,” Note: The article has been removed – URL retained for reference). Just as in the Internet war between Scientology and its critics, however, the manual can now be found on numerous sites around the world (Steinhaug provides several links on his Web site).

Steinhaug insists that he did not violate copyright because a privately distributed work cannot be copyrighted (“Kent Steinhaug and Copyright,” Note: Article removed – URL retained for reference). The Watchtower Society will likely argue, should the dispute result in further legal action, that any original and fixed work of authorship may be copyrighted, even if it remains unpublished (Title 17, US Code, Section 102).

Steinhaug makes a more interesting argument for his actions on the basis of civil disobedience. He states (with regrettably hostile rhetoric) that the Society has no reason to be alarmed by his posting unless they are attempting to hide their regulations and disciplinary procedures from public scrutiny. He unfortunately weakens his position by asserting that the Watchtower is censoring free speech by copyrighting its publication (“A Letter to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Note: Article removed – URL retained for reference). A more cogent argument would be that the Society capriciously reduces examination of its practices through the highly restricted distribution of this publication.

It is telling of the secrecy, and frequently the hostility, with which the Watchtower Society handles its followers that drastic action was required to expose the Society’s official justification and methodology for discipline. Kent Steinhaug’s posting of Pay Attention. allows for an unprecedented look into the secret workings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the ramifications of its actions in the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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