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Scientology's Challenge to the Right to Repair Movement

Posted: 2023-09-04
By: dwirch
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The Right to Repair movement, advocating for consumers' ability to mend their own devices, has seen significant advancements in the U.S. Recently, however, a surprising opponent emerged: the Church of Scientology, through its representative entity, Author Services, Inc.

Author Services, Inc., which stands for the literary and artistic outputs of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, recently submitted a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office. This was during the office's triennial review of DMCA Section 1201 exemptions. In their letter, they voiced opposition to a part of Section 1201, which lets users bypass software locks to fix devices.

It's important to note that Author Services isn't against all exemptions. They clarified they aren't opposed to exemptions for common consumer devices. Ryland Hawkins, the legal director of Author Services, mentioned that some devices require unique training or qualifications. For these, software licenses are not merely standard; they are often pre-negotiated before device purchase. Such restrictions, Hawkins emphasized, are crucial to ensure the device's appropriate and safe usage, maintaining the manufacturer's reputation.

In 2021, the Copyright Office adjusted these repair exemption rules, making it more lenient for hobbyists and researchers to explore copyrighted software without DMCA breach. However, Hawkins asserted that these might conflict with pre-agreed license terms, potentially harming a business's reputation and product perception.

Why is Hubbard's literary estate involved in this issue? The exact device Author Services refers to isn't explicitly mentioned. However, after some digging, we found Author Services to be a subsidiary of the Church of Scientology. This links them to another subsidiary, the Church of Spiritual Technology, which holds the copyrights to all of Hubbard’s works.

The Church of Scientology is primarily associated with one electronic gadget: the E-meter. Used during the church's "auditing" process, this device supposedly gauges a person's spiritual state. Parts of Hawkins' letter mirror a 2013 agreement that Scientologists need to sign to use an E-meter, as revealed by a whistleblower.

Why is the Church of Scientology concerned about their E-meter software being probed? Elizabeth Chamberlain from iFixit suggests that revealing their E-meter's software workings might expose their practices as deceitful.

Chamberlain also raised alarms that accepting the exemption plea from Author Services might pave the way for other firms to craftily challenge section 1201 exemptions. This could lead manufacturers to deny broad repair access, claiming their users have specialized training.

The outcome of Author Services' plea is uncertain, but Chamberlain believes it's a far-fetched proposal.

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