SALT LAKE CITY — A group that promises anonymity to those who leak internal LDS Church documents has hired an attorney who has threatened the church with rarely successful legal action.
Two weeks ago, the manager of the intellectual property office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a notice on March 1 that MormonLeaks had posted copyrighted church material from a presentation made to members of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other leaders. The church sent the notice to MormonLeaks and, apparently, to the owners of docdroid.net, which removed the material.
On Tuesday, MormonLeaks re-posted the copyrighted church presentation and Las Vegas-based attorney Marc J. Randazza sent the church a letter saying that he now represents MormonLeaks, which he termed a "journalistic resource."
Randazza is nationally known for regular appearances on national TV networks as a First Amendment attorney, for his colorful legal writing and for representing pornographers. In 2015, an arbitrator handed down a $600,000 interim arbitration award against him for violating fiduciary responsibilities he owed to his employer. Randazza filed for bankruptcy.
The arbitrator also found that Randazza secretly negotiated a $75,000 bribe from a company he was suing for his employer.
In his two-page letter to the LDS Church, Randazza said he would not pursue legal action if the church dropped its effort to have MormonLeaks take down the copyrighted material.
Copyright expert Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said the church's letter to MormonLeaks qualified as a takedown notice under the federal Digital Millenial Copyright Act, a law passed by Congress to help copyright owners stop websites from publishing copyrighted materials.
Takedown notices from copyright owners alert a web host that an uploader has posted copyrighted material, Goldman said. Once notified, the web host is liable under the law if it doesn't remove the material, as docdroid.net did.
"What the Mormon church sent to MormonLeaks," Goldman said, "was a takedown notice saying, 'take that content down. If you choose not to, now you'll take the liability as if you have no protection from the DMCA.'"
The law includes a provision to punish those who misuse it. Randazza claimed in his letter that the church misused DMCA.
"If copyright owners are acting to enforce their copyrights, there's no problem whatsoever," Goldman said, "but if they're engaged in abusive behavior, then they might be liable for that abusive behavior."
Goldman said abusive behavior could include people who send a takedown notice when they aren't the copyright owner, or people who send a takedown notice when they don't believe there's actually an infringement."
He called a claim of DMCA abuse an uphill battle full of challenges. Courts have required someone claiming abuse to show that the sender of an abusive takedown notice didn't believe there had been a copyright infringement but sent the letter anyway.
"We have almost no situations where courts have found a violation," Goldman said.
Randazza's letter wanders far afield from DMCA. He wrote that the LDS Church handles criticism with "admirable grace, tact and class," referring to "The Book of Mormon" musical and the church's public relations response. He made an appeal for the church to reveal all its inner workings.
Goldman called Randazza "colorful" and said he is known for writing "some really unusual legal documents."
For example, Randazza got a judge to rule that Klingon, a language in the Star Trek TV shows and movies, was not protected by copyright.
"It looks like this letter goes on to try to do more than simply threaten (the church) with litigation under (DMCA)," Goldman said. "This is not a typical letter aggressively trying to threaten somebody. My guess is that Marc expected that this letter would be the subject of some media coverage and wrote it with an eye toward that as well. That would not be the first time he's done that."
Another news outlet on Tuesday called Randazza "troll-spirited" and described his letter to the LDS Church restrained — for him.