You can now include the Church of Scientology alongside big tech firms like Apple and tractor makers John Deere for groups that have opposed the right to repair.
Earlier this month, Authors Services, Inc., the organization that represents the late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s literary works, sent a letter to the federal government advocating against consumer’s rights to repair devices used by people who “possess particular qualifications or [have] been specifically trained in the use of the device.” Despite the vague language, the statement seems to refer to E-Meters, the notorious device used to “audit” members of the “Church.”
The letter is dated Aug. 10 and was sent to the U.S. Copyright Office to contest the renewal of an exemption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allowing people to hack into consumer device software for the purpose of maintenance or repair. This refers to Section 1201 of the DMCA, also the “anti-circumvention” provisions that have allowed tech companies, tractor makers, and more to restrict users from repairing devices dependent on software. In 2021, The U.S. Copyright Office changed the rules allowing users to fix far more of their own software-enabled devices.
As first reported by 404Media, Author Services’ letter never specifically mentions E-Meters, but the language in the letter clearly indicates that Scientologists don’t want people to mess with devices not meant for laypeople, but those who negotiate a “pre-purchase license” for using the device.
Gizmodo reached out to Hawkins for comment, but we did not immediately hear back. We also reached out to the U.S. Copyright Office on their comment period for this and other decisions coming down the pike, and we will update this story if we hear more.
The E-Meter, or “electropsychometer,” is described by the Church of Scientology as a “religious artifact” for the purpose of “auditing” members. From what we understand, an E-Meter sends an electrical current through a body and back into the device, which is why an E-Meter requires two grips. It measures electrical resistance in the human body, and its basic functions are believed to be present in other pieces of tech like the polygraph. But Scientologists have a much more convoluted explanation for the device’s readings that involves a person’s mental state and “thetan.”
While it’s not important to diagnose the entirety of Scientology, the important thing to note is that only properly trained “ministers” are supposed to use these devices. 404Media dug further into the actual EULA agreement for E-Meters, and there’s indeed a whole range of restrictions keeping regular users from accessing critical software, including a note that users need to have a login to register or update the device software. This also requires a membership number for the International Association of Scientologists.
One of the original software license agreements for the Hubbard Professional Mark Ultra VIII dated back to 2013 notes users would void a warranty if the software has been “used improperly or in an operating environment not approved by CSI or if the E-Meter casing has been opened.”
This exemption wouldn’t just impact Scientologist’s main auditing tool. Public Knowlege senior policy council Meredith Rose told 404Media it could also impact any device that could arguably require “qualifications” to use properly, or even if a device simply has a license agreement. U.S. PIRG senior director Nathan Proctor also told the outlet that the language could make it illegal to repair any product with an EULA.
Right-to-repair advocates are trying to move beyond what some might consider normal user-end devices. The company iFixit has appealed to the federal government to allow people to repair busted McDonald’s ice cream machines. It’s more of a test case to prove that monopolistic companies are hoarding their tech and the ability for customers to repair what they buy. If you’re so keen, you can get an E-Meter on eBay. Repair advocates may be the only thing standing in the way of being sued for digging into the E-Meters guts to find out where the real “thetan” lives.