In a surprising move, the Church of Scientology has joined the ranks of tech giants like Apple and industrial heavyweights like John Deere in opposing the right to repair. This comes after Authors Services, Inc., the entity representing the literary works of the late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, submitted a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, arguing against consumers’ rights to repair devices unless they have specific qualifications or training. Although not explicitly mentioned, the devices in question appear to be E-Meters, a controversial tool used by the Church of Scientology for auditing its members.
The controversy stems from a recent change in the rules by the U.S. Copyright Office. In 2021, an exemption was made to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), also known as the “anti-circumvention” provisions. This exemption, first reported by 404Media, allows consumers to hack into device software for maintenance or repair purposes, a move that has been resisted by tech companies and other industries that depend on software-based devices. The Church of Scientology, through Authors Services, now seems to be advocating for an amendment to this exemption, arguing that it should not apply to devices that are restricted by the supplier to specially trained individuals.
The Church of Scientology Joins Fight Against Right to Repair
A New Challenger in the Right to Repair Debate
The right to repair debate has been a topic of much contention, with big tech firms such as Apple and tractor makers like John Deere being well-known opponents. Now, the Church of Scientology has joined the fray. Author Services, Inc., the organization representing the late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s literary works, recently sent a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office opposing consumer rights to repair devices used by those with specific qualifications or training. Though not explicitly stated, the letter seems to refer to E-Meters, devices used for auditing members of the Church.
The Fight Against Section 1201 of the DMCA
Dated August 10, the letter contests the renewal of an exemption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which allows people to hack into consumer device software for maintenance or repair. This refers specifically to Section 1201 of the DMCA, also known as “anti-circumvention” provisions, which have allowed tech companies, tractor makers, and others to restrict users from repairing software-dependent devices. However, in 2021, the U.S. Copyright Office changed the rules, allowing users to fix more of their own software-enabled devices.
A Narrow Focus on E-Meters
Despite the broad implications of its stance, Author Services’ letter mainly targets E-Meters, devices not meant for the layperson but for those who negotiate a pre-purchase license for their use. The letter argues for amending the original DMCA amendment to exclude devices restricted by their supplier for use only by specifically trained individuals.
The E-Meter: A Device Shrouded in Mystery
The E-Meter, or “electropsychometer,” is described by the Church of Scientology as a religious artifact used for auditing members. It operates by sending an electrical current through a body and back into the device, measuring electrical resistance in the human body. Despite its seemingly straightforward function, Scientologists attribute its readings to a complex interplay of mental states and "thetan", a term unique to Scientology.
The Potential Implications of the Exemption
This exemption wouldn’t just affect the main auditing tool of Scientologists. According to Meredith Rose, senior policy council of Public Knowledge, it could also impact any device that arguably requires "qualifications" to use properly, or even if a device simply has a license agreement. Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG senior director, added that the language could potentially make it illegal to repair any product with an End User License Agreement (EULA).
The right to repair debate is no longer confined to the realm of tech giants and tractor manufacturers. With the Church of Scientology joining the fray, the issue becomes more complex. The proposed exemption could potentially impact any device or software that requires specialized training or has a license agreement, broadening the scope of the debate. As consumers, it’s crucial to stay informed and understand the implications of these proposed changes.