USA: Faithleaks had to delete more than 23,000 files with material from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The foundation behind the website, the Truth & Transparency Foundation, kept quiet about the events, until a brief press statement was released earlier this week. In this interview they explain what happened.
“It was tough to be forced to settle when we felt we had the best arguments and could have won a case. But we did not have the funds to fight this case in court”, says Ryan McKnight, founder of Truth & Transparency.
Fædrelandsvennen interviewed him together with co-founder Ethan Gregory Dodge.
“We needed $ 40,000 as a minimum, if we were to be able to fight this case in court”, says Ethan Gregory Dodge.
The dispute was originally over 74 video files made by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The church claimed that the web publication of the files was infringing the church’s copyright. The TTF got sued.
Dodge and McKnight felt they had a good case to defend, as they had been in similar disputes earlier in relation to their work on MormonLeaks. To fight the case in court, they started a crowdfunder. A minimum of $ 40,000 was needed, otherwise Watch Tower would win the case automatically.
The crowdfunder raised less than $ 14,000.
“It was a perfect storm. Watch Tower filed a case against us while the BLM-protest movement and the global pandemic was top of the agenda for the media and activists. It was not easy to get attention and raise enough funds for our legal process in this situation” says Ethan Gregory Dodge.
A settlement was the only way forward. The terms for the settlement include:
- Truth & Transparency would remove all documents owned by Watch Tower from all their websites.
- Truth & Transparency, and its founders, Ryan McKnight and Ethan Gregory Dodge, will never again publish copyrighted material owned by Watch Tower.
- Truth & Transparency will pay Watch Tower a total of $15,000 in damages.
The fundraiser raised over 13,000 US dollars. The result is that the foundation must pay 10,000 dollars in legal expenses, as well as 15,000 dollars in damages to Watch Tower. This amounts to almost 250,000 Norwegian kroner (NOK).
And more than 23,000 deleted documents.
“How will this settlement affect the work your foundation does with other churches and religions?”
“We will have to discuss and evaluate this carefully now, before we can tell how this affects our work in the future. We can still write and publish stories and commentaries. But we must evaluate how this affects the publishing of copyrighted documents” says Ryan McKnight.
Users of the document wiki included members and ex-members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as scholars and journalists. In a press release, Dodge and McKnight express how the past weeks have been.
“The result is absolutely agonizing and has been emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing on us, as it goes against our core values. Additionally, the irony that we have not been able to say anything publicly until now, causing tremendous frustration for our supporters, is not lost on us. We simply were not at liberty to do so while the settlement was being negotiated, which added to the stress and agony of the situation.”
“How has the community responded?”
“The reactions have been mixed. Many people understand the situation and see that we did not have much of a choice. Others express frustration, saying that the money they contributed now goes to Watch Tower” McKnight says.
The foundation’s work is not over with this settlement. Their website will still publish news and commentaries.
The man who contributed the bulk of the now deleted documents on Jehovah’s Witnesses to Faithleaks is Jason Wynne in Galway, Ireland. Fædrelandsvennen met him while working on a documentary article called “The Blue Envelopes”.
“I am not surprised. I am sorry to say I almost expected this would happen” he says.
Some of the activists in the exJW community are angry and frustrated after the files were deleted. Wynne’s approach is more reconciling.
“Faithleaks did a great service to the exJW community when they published and help us spread this material. These guys showed that they stand for the same open and transparent principles as I stand for. However, they probably underestimated how hard Watch Tower would work to stop them” he says.