The Jehovah’s Witness religious group is perhaps best known for knocking on doors to recruit new followers to the faith. When it comes to their promotional videos and documents, however, the organization takes a very different approach.
As reported recently, people who post their videos to YouTube, for example, can find themselves on the wrong end of a copyright lawsuit. On Thursday, that’s what happened to journalists Ryan McKnight and Ethan Gregory Dodge, who together founded Truth & Transparency (TTF), a site with a mission to provide “religious accountability through impact journalism”.
According to a lawsuit filed in a New York district court by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the supervising body and publisher for the Jehovah’s Witness religious group, the pair committed massive copyright infringement for illegally distributing Watch Tower’s “motion picture” works.
The complaint alleges that in mid-2018, Watch Tower discovered that 487 of its “copyrighted literary works” had been posted by the defendants on FaithLeaks.org, a site presented in a Wikileaks-style format. Late December 2018, Watch Tower demanded that the works be taken down, alleging breaches of copyright. The defendants reportedly refused to remove the content, claiming fair use under the Copyright Act.
Then, in May 2019, Watch Tower learned that “74 motion pictures” to which it holds the copyrights had been uploaded to RuTube.ru, a Russia-based YouTube-like platform. Watch Tower sent takedown notices to RuTube which resulted in the videos being removed. Shortly after, however, it’s alleged that McKnight and Dodge re-uploaded the videos to FaithLeaks where they remain available today.
Watch Tower points to a May 2019 article published on TruthandTransparency.org in which the defendants “boasted not only about their past infringements and refusals to comply with Watch Tower’s efforts to enforce its copyrights, but also about these new infringements, leaving no doubt as to Defendants’ willfulness.”
The article in question suggests that the videos, apparently recordings of conventions to which the public was invited, were indeed uploaded by the defendants, to elicit commentary and critique from observers. The article further notes that Watch Tower was approached for comment on the event but failed to respond. Albeit several months later, it has now.
In a complaint that details every video and alleged infringements one by one, there are repeated allegations that the defendants “unlawfully copied, reproduced, publicly displayed, publicly performed and distributed” Watch Tower’s videos, in their entirety and without alteration. Dozens of pages of evidence later, the religious group reaches its conclusion.
“Defendants 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,” it reads.
“The acts of Defendants described above were committed without the permission, license or consent of Watch Tower. Upon information and belief, the acts of Defendants described above were committed with knowledge or in reckless disregard of Watch Tower’s exclusive rights in the Watch Tower videos.
“Plaintiff, accordingly, seeks injunctive relief and statutory damages for willful copyright infringement.”
Given that damages for willful copyright infringement can reach $150,000 per infringed work, McKnight and Dodge are facing a potentially massive damages claim running to millions of dollars. Additionally, Watch Tower is demanding the removal of the videos and an injunction which prevents infringement of its copyrights moving forward.
TorrentFreak approached both McKnight and Dodge for comment on but at this time, the journalists declined.
The complaint, filed in a New York district court, can be found here (pdf)
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