Zenon Panoussis (born 1956) is a naturalized Swedish citizen of Greek descent, mostly known for his dispute with the Church of Scientology and the novel legal tactics used in this pursuit. His interests span Internet technologies and human rights.
The Scientology vs Panoussis case
In late 1996, Zenon Panoussis appeared on the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology. Although he was a new-comer to the larger online battle between Scientology and its critics he quickly came to the forefront. In his initial post he openly posted the NOT documents ("New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans"), a document the Church of Scientology had under copyright. This posting was accompanied by messages that were remarkably casual about the prospects of litigation, a common tactic for the church, one which critics assert is used to restrict free speech rights of those who speak out against Scientology.
As they had done so in previous cases, lawyers for the Church of Scientology filed a civil lawsuit for copyright infringement. The lawyers representing the church were successful in convincing the court to order a raid on Mr. Panoussis' house, as well as the seizure of his personal computer. Panoussis defended himself in court without legal assistance, where he attempted, with varying success, many new legal tactics.
In his defense, Panoussis invoked offentlighetsprincipen. This is a "freedom of information" provision of the Constitution of Sweden that guarantees access to public documents in order to prevent corruption and fraud, and it is considered a basic civil right in Sweden. Panoussis turned over a copy of the NOT documents to the office of the Swedish Parliament and, by law, copies of the documents were available for anyone from the public to see, at any time he or she wished. The Church of Scientology tried to block public access to the documents by having members sitting and reading them during the time the office was open.
In the years between 1997 and 2000, Scientology made numerous attempts to remove the NOT documents from the Parliament offices. Repeated requests to have the documents sealed were denied. On two occasions, the documents were stolen from the Swedish Parliament, the involvement in which the Church of Scientology has denied but is often asserted by critics. The church convinced some individual members of the United States Congress to get involved in the affair, and diplomatic influence from these members were used to attempt to convince the Parliament to remove the NOT documents.
Despite his defense, Panoussis lost the case on the issue of copyright infringement. In a 1998 ruling he was ordered to pay damages of approximately US$1,000 and legal costs of over US$200,000. Subsequent appeals merely upheld the original ruling.
After three years of repeated requests and demands by the Church of Scientology to remove the NOT documents from the public record, in the year 2000 Parliament passed an amendment to their Official Secrets law to order the NOT documents sealed away from public view. This move provoked a number of legal scholars in Sweden to issue protests, saying that the move effectively meant that copyright law overruled the Constitution of Sweden. Debate on the matter has not ended, and the document still rests, albeit sealed, in Parliamentary archives.
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