The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, which oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is suing The Truth and Transparency Foundation and its founders Ryan C. McKnight and Ethan G. Dodge alleging copyright infringement.
The Witnesses say they created 74 “original motion pictures” and have copyrights on them. But those movies were obtained and uploaded to FaithLeaks.org, a place where whistleblowers can anonymously submit material. The Truth and Transparency Foundation — run by the same people — then took that material, researched it, and published an investigative piece on the matter.
All the movies came from the religious organization’s annual convention, so the argument could be made that there was news value to reposting what JW believers around the world were being taught. Dodge explained that rationale this way:
Before their removal, the videos received much analysis from ex-Witnesses on various forums across the Internet. Redditing_again, who published their own lengthy analysis of one video, argues that the videos simply deserve to be made public for the sake of criticism.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have thrived on controlling their own narrative for many years, discouraging outside research and discussion, said redditing_again.” He further stated that, “while a speaker’s ideas could be dismissed as personal thoughts, the videos are known by attendees to be directly form the organization.”. Further, “by making these videos publicly available, opportunity is given for open and unbiased discussion and criticism.”
In other words, this was fair game.
The Watch Tower Society disagrees. According to their lawsuit,
… McKnight and Dodge personally participated in, and supervised and directed, the infringing acts described above. Indeed, they personally conceived of, and directed and approved all key aspects of, TTF’s infringing activities. They were the moving force behind those infringing acts.
While no specific cost is listed in the lawsuit, it says the Witnesses want costs and attorneys’ fees for “each” video. Even the ones with no real content. It also says (almost comically) that “Watch Tower has suffered, and will continue to suffer, irreparable injury not fully compensable in monetary damages, and is therefore entitled to an injunction enjoining Defendants from engaging in their infringing activities.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are apparently suffering because more people may have had a chance to watch their propaganda films. The irony clearly escapes them. (If the videos are out there at all, the group wants people to watch them on the Witnesses’ own website, where they can be seen without any kind of criticism or context.)
Considering TTF doesn’t make any money from the videos and that believers who want to see the films aren’t about to see them at FaithLeaks (choosing instead to go through JW channels), I’m not sure how strong this case is. But if a judge says the videos must come down, the Witnesses will be able to shield the public from seeing what believers are exposed to at a major event. That would be devastating.
For what it’s worth, TTF’s methods have been effective. In 2018, for example, leaked documents revealed how the Witnesses were mishandling sex abuse cases. The difference is that we’re no longer talking about leaked documents, but propaganda films, and the content was uploaded by the owners themselves; it didn’t fall into their lap.
McKnight didn’t respond to a request for comment last night.