The Google search engine has delisted some Web pages that are critical of the Church of Scientology. Google said it had no choice because the church had threatened legal action if the Web sites stayed listed on Google.
Free speech advocates said the law the church used to get the pages removed, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, is too powerful and may infringe on freedom of speech.
The delisted Web pages are on Operation Clambake, a Web site that opposes the methods of the Church of Scientology and its efforts to silence the church's critics on the Web.
"The complaint mentions a ridiculous list of addresses which successfully removes the whole site from their engine," said Andreas Heldal-Lund, who runs Operation Clambake, in a post to a Scientology discussion group.
"Had we not removed these URLs, we would be subject to a claim for copyright infringement, regardless of its merits," said a Google spokesman in an e-mail message to Heldal-Lund.
The delisted pages originally included the Operation Clambake home page, xenu.net. That page has since been relisted on Google.
The Web site is now listed fourth in a search for "Scientology" on Google.
Lawyers representing the church said the pages included information protected under copyright.
Heldal-Lund contends that any copyrighted information on his Web site falls under fair use, a provision in copyright law that allows protected information to be quoted for critical, educational or research purposes.
The pages include excepts from Scientology's secret religious texts as well as internal church documents concerning a former member of the church who died under mysterious circumstances.
The pages are still available on the Internet, but won't show up in a Google search.
In the past, the Church of Scientology has sued former members for releasing its secret texts to the public and media outlets for quoting those texts in news articles.