On the afternoon of Monday December 31, 2018, Truth & Transparency was issued four separate takedown requests with a total of 63 documents. The request came from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, more commonly known as “Watch Tower”, the governing organization of the religious group known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is Truth & Transparency's third time receiving such a request, this being the first regarding a withdrawal of documents not related to Mormonism.
All the documents included in the requests are currently hosted on the website of Truth & Transparency project FaithLeaks, which serves as a site to host confidential documents from religious institutions. The entirety of the documents were published in late April or early May 2018, eight months before the requests.
Why the takedown request was not issued closer to the documents’ publication is unclear, but the requests were delivered shortly after a profile of Jason Wynne, founder of the website AvoidJW.org, was published in the Norwegian newspaper Fædrelandsvennen. AvoidJW once hosted thousands of documents relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses. In early 2018, they were taken down and are slowly being republished by Truth & Transparency on FaithLeaks. All 63 documents in question were once on AvoidJW.
All but two of the documents are related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ annual regional convention. Each year, religious leaders from Watch Tower tour different regions of the world to attend and speak at conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses where members are instructed and educated. These leaders include a group of eight men known as the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the highest leaders of the institution.
Among the documents are the content and outlines of talks given in the 2016 and 2017 tours. Truth & Transparency has also published content of the 2018 convention, but these were not included in the takedown request.
In March of 2017, Truth & Transparency, then operating solely under the name MormonLeaks, received a takedown request from the Intellectual Property Department of the Mormon Church. The subject of the request was an internal PowerPoint presentation that contained a slide that was later dubbed by the media as the Mormon Church’s “Enemies List”.
In Truth & Transparency's response, free speech attorney Marc Randazza called the Mormon Church’s actions “attempted censorship and claimed the publication of the document was legal under fair use,: “My client obtained this lawfully and had a right to distribute it in its capacity as a journalistic resource devoted to discussing facts about the LDS Church.” Randazza threatened the Mormon Church with a “vigorous fair use defense” if they chose to pursue legal action.
In July of 2017, MormonLeaks received another request in response to the first publication of The McConkie Papers, 90 unpublished documents written in the hand of an influential Mormon leader, the late Bruce McConkie. This request was not from the Mormon Church, but rather the “heirs” of McConkie. Randazza replied with similar arguments on behalf of MormonLeaks. Both the slidedeck and the McConkie Papers remain on the MormonLeaks site.
Salt Lake City based attorney Lincoln Hobbs penned Truth & Transparency's most recent response to Watch Tower. He claimed the documents are legally published under fair use for for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . . scholarship, or research,” quoting 17 U.S. Code § 107.
After citing two court cases with similar situations, he argued Truth & Transparency's strongest point in its favor is that the documents’ publication was “indisputably noncommercial” and will not likely “interfere with the market for Watch Tower’s materials to its followers.”