Sunday, March 23, 2008
Copies of The Profit, a 2001 film blocked from distribution in the United States due to a court injunction won by the Church of Scientology, appeared on the Internet Friday on peer-to-peer file-sharing websites and on the video sharing site YouTube.
Directed by former film executive Peter N. Alexander, the movie has been characterized by critics as a parody of Scientology and of its founder L. Ron Hubbard. Alexander was a Scientologist for twenty years, and left the organization in 1997. The film was funded by Bob Minton, a former critic of Scientology who later signed an agreement with the Church of Scientology and has attempted to stop distribution of the film. Alexander has stated that the movie is based on his research into cults, and when asked by the St. Petersburg Times about parallels to Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard said: “I’ll let you draw that conclusion … I say it’s entirely fictional.”
The film was released in August 2001, and was shown at a movie theatre in Clearwater, Florida and at a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France. A Scientology spokesman gave a statement at the time saying “the movie is fiction and has nothing to do with Scientology”. The Church of Scientology later took legal action in an attempt to stop further distribution of the film. The Church of Scientology claimed that the film was intended to influence the jury pool in the wrongful death case of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died under Scientology care in Clearwater, Florida.
In April 2002, a Pinellas County, Florida judge issued a court order enjoining The Profit from worldwide distribution for an indefinite period. According to the original court injunction received by Wikinews, the movie was originally banned because the court found that it could be seen as a parody of Scientology. In his April 20, 2002 ruling on the injunction, Judge Robert E. Beach of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas County, Florida wrote: “…an average person viewing the film entitled The Profit could perceive that it is a parody of the Church of Scientology”.
“To the extent that any person considered as a potential juror in evaluating any issues involving the Church of Scientology, the process of voir dire provides a fair and complete remedy to eliminate any potential juror that may possibly have been influenced to be less than fair and impartial,” added Beach.
Luke Lirot, the attorney for the film’s production company, announced on the film’s website on April 7, 2007 that “We have absolutely no exposure for any repercussions from the court order,” but that the film was still blocked from distribution due to an ongoing legal battle. Lirot wrote: “all that’s stopping the release of the movie is the legal battle with the partner who was compromised by Scientology (Robert Minton) and is currently using his power as partner to stop the release of the film.”
In an October 2007 article, The Times described the film as “banned in the US because of a lawsuit taken out against it by The Church of Scientology,” and Russ Kick’s The Disinformation Book of Lists included the film in his “List of 16 Movies Banned in the U.S.”. An 8-minute teaser segment from The Profit appeared on the film’s website and on the video sharing site YouTube in February 2008, and an attorney representing Bob Minton sent a letter to Luke Lirot requesting that the film clip be taken down. In a response letter, Lirot wrote that “Rather than damage any asset of the LLC, the short clip merely keeps the film in the public eye, and in a positive way.”
On Friday, copies of the film began to circulate on peer-to-peer file-sharing websites and on YouTube. A link related to the film’s appearance on the Internet on the community-based link aggregator website Digg.com had 3,638 “Diggs” – and hit the front page of the site’s Entertainment section on Saturday.
|I had nothing to do with this release at all. But I’m happy it’s out there.|
On Saturday, Scientology critic and Emmy award-winning journalist Mark Bunker put a streaming version of the film on his website, www.xenutv.com, and encouraged others to watch and discuss the film on a real-time chat channel. In a video posting to YouTube Saturday, Bunker said “I did not do it. I had nothing to do with it … I had nothing to do with this release at all. But I’m happy it’s out there … people are finally having a chance to see it. A lot of people have been curious over the years and there’s been a lot of interest in seeing the film, so finally you can.”
|We have all wanted to see this movie that scientology kept hidden away from us. We have all wondered just how damning could this story be that we were banned from watching it.|
On the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, a poster by the username “Alexia Death” commented on the film’s appearance on the Internet in the context of censorship: “It is out! And so it is a WIN if many people review it even if they say it SUCKS! … Being bad is no cause to allow censorship … And being censored is no cause to assume its good”. A post to the blog Blogsreel commented: “We have all wanted to see this movie that scientology kept hidden away from us. We have all wondered just how damning could this story be that we were banned from watching it.”
In a post on Sunday to the message board attached to the official website for the film, attorney Luke Lirot asked that individuals stop distributing copies of The Profit over the Internet. Lirot wrote: “It has been brought to my attention that several unauthorized transmissions and downloads of this protected work have taken place over the last 72 hours. Such actions are copyright violations and are unlawful. I request that any further distribution and/or dissemination of this important work cease immediately and any copies of the work that have been downloaded please be deleted.” In his statement, Lirot recognized the rights of individuals under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, but also said that unauthorized distribution of the film “will only serve to harm the goal of vast distribution”.
Blog postings have attributed the film’s appearance on the Internet as part of the anti-Scientology movement Project Chanology organized by the Internet-based group Anonymous, but this has not been confirmed. Wikinews previously reported on international protests against Scientology which took place as part of Project Chanology on February 10 and March 15. A third international protest by Anonymous is scheduled for April 12. Titled “Operation Reconnect”, the third international protest will focus on highlighting Scientology’s practice of disconnection.