‘Right to Repair’ Has a New Enemy: Scientologists

An "E-Meter" is seen in front of books by L. Ron Hubbard.

The right for consumers to repair their own devices rather than being chained to the whims of manufacturers has been a long battle, typically fought by the companies themselves. But now it’s Scientologists that are issuing protests.

Authors Services, Inc., which represents the literary, theatrical, and musical works of L. Ron Hubbard — whose books the Church of Scientology is based on — sent a letter to the federal government asking “to make it illegal to circumvent software locks for the repair of a highly specific set of electronic devices,” 404 Media reports. This would essentially restrict consumers’ rights to repair the equipment they own.

Firstly, it’s important to explain what the group is even opposed to having repair options for, especially as it seems unlikely to be referring to book repairs. While the letter is vague, it seems that the organization is concerned with “E-Meters.”

The E-Meter, short for electropsychometer, according to the Church of Scientology, is a “religious artifact” meant to measure “the spiritual state or change of state of a person.” It is used in what the group refers to as an “audit.”

“Through auditing one is able to look at his own existence and improve his ability to confront what he is and where he is,” the Scientology website states.

Clearly, it’s all very scientific and it’s not at all a red flag that only certain members of Scientology are meant to use one. Nor is it a red flag that Scientologists don’t want people poking around inside it.

A 2013 model of the "E-Meter."

In its letter, Authors Services specifically opposes the renewal of an exemption to part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows consumers to circumvent technological measures on electronics dependent on software for personal repair.

The organization asserts that renewal of the exemption would undermine the manufacturer’s ability to maintain its reputation and goodwill, all while referring only to devices that can only be purchased by those with specific qualifications or training, and without ever mentioning the E-Meter by name.

“We have no objection to the exemption as applied to these consumer devices [which are sold in the open market to ordinary buyers] to allow consumers to repair products on their own initiative,” the letter states.

As 404 Media reports, there are restrictions within the Church of Scientology regarding who can operate E-Meters, and there are logins to register or update the device’s software.

But Nathan Proctor, who is a U.S. PIRG senior director for the Campaign for the Right to Repair, told 404 that Authors Services’ argument could stretch to any device with an end user license agreement.

The Church of Scientology is highly controversial, with many critics referring to it as more of a cult than a church. This may be why E-Meters have attracted the attention of those outside Scientology.

“There’s YouTube channels of people who collect E-Meters and ephemera. I guess they’re worried about people trying to repair them. How you would tell if it’s functioning properly, I don’t know,” Meredith Rose, who is a DMCA expert and senior policy council at consumer rights group Public Knowledge, told 404 Media.

The right-to-repair movement has seen multiple ups and downs over the course of the last couple of years. In 2021, the FTC approved a right to repair policy in what was a major turning point, and win, for right to repair advocates. It followed an order from President Joe Biden that asked the group to create right to repair rules. Most recently, Apple finally relented and will support California’s right to repair legislation. The Silicon Valley giant had previously been one of the most outspoken organizations against the general principles of right to repair.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Daniel Spiess