On his alienship’s secret service

February 21, 2008

Scientology has never been the most open group of folks in world. Well, that’s putting it very nicely. The truth is, Scientologists have never been anything but well, religious, in their attempts to keep the doors closed and the windows tinted. Very few actually know what goes on inside the “Church of Scientology,” and the ones who do know, and are attempting to publish their knowledge, are being hunted down like felons.

Scientology leaders are now cracking down on heretics to the faith on eBay, via a loophole in the website’s anti-copyright infringement programs.

It seems that the notoriously litigious church has been using eBay’s Verified Rights Owner Program (VeRO) to keep ex-Scientologists, hoping to recoup some of the amounts that they spent on church-mandated gear, from selling their E-meters and other materials via the online auction giant. The VeRO system was developed to enable copyright and intellectual property holders to challenge the listing of counterfeit products. But the system is not entirely foolproof. As [reporter Scott] Pilutuk explains, the uninitiated may think that there is an actual grievance process involved in VeRO, with eBay verifying the claim of infringement. But apparently eBay “essentially deputizes” said intellectual property holder, who can then go in and remove the listing themselves.

Pilituk admits that the system makes sense for manufacturers such as Rolex and Gucci, who would have little recourse otherwise. But he argues that Scientology cannot claim the E-meters for sale have been counterfeit or that their sale violates any trademark or patent law.

Of course not. It’s absurd to apply copyright infringement laws to privately sold, original copies of Scientology material. But as the article goes on to note, that’s probably not the real issue here. Scientology has a history of aggressively pursuing anyone who dares to inform the public as to the goings on inside the Church. American religions have, traditionally, been extremely open and libertarian with their members; joining and separating are both considered highly volitional, by nearly all Christian denominations and most other religions in the country. And rare is the sight of a church chasing dissatisfied former members to silence their critiques. The aggressiveness and downright statism of Scientology is fairly unique to that super-secret society.

And in case you’re wondering, this is hardly a solitary kind of thing. Right now, a Jewish couple is requesting the publication of (you guessed it) secret documents detailing some sort of agreement between the IRS and Scientology regarding tax breaks and deductions for “educational materials.” The couple has so far been denied deductions for what they claim are similar purchases that the IRS allows members of the Church of Scientology to apply. But they are unable to validate their claims, as the hard copy of the IRS’s policy towards CoS members remains under wraps (alongside most other aspects of the religion).

You really have to wonder about organizations, politicians, and religions that go to such effort to keep the public in the dark.

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