Shoestring Theory

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Church of Scientology directly removing eBay auctions

February 20, 2008 at 11:58 am by thetheorist

E-meter image from Salimfadhley on Wikimedia Commons.

According to, the Church of Scientology is directly pulling auctions for church related items by abusing the VeRO (Verified Rights Owner) program. This includes physical property purchased by former Scientologists, such as e-meters (a device used in CoS rituals), that should not be covered under any copyright or trademark laws. That report has also been picked up by Slashdot.

But every time [Bill] attempts to sell his e-meter on eBay, the listing is removed within hours by the Church of Scientology, which claims that the listing violates their intellectual property rights.


If you’re uninitiated to eBay, you’d probably think that for each of these removals, the Church of Scientology informs eBay of the violation of its rights, eBay considers the merits of their argument, and then only then does eBay yank the listing. But that’s not what happens at all. Instead, eBay effectively deputizes Scientology, which logs into eBay and removes the listings itself.

The VeRO program is a cost cutting measure by eBay. By allowing intellectual property owners to directly remove listings violating the DMCA, copyright, or trademark, eBay doesn’t have to have as large a staff to handle complaints from IP owners. In the case of physical property though, people do have a right to sell what they have previously purchased. Think about this. If you buy a book, sweater, car, or table lamp, you have the right to sell any of those items to someone else. What if Honda suddenly told you that you weren’t allowed to sell your used Accord? Same thing.

A google of this topic brought up a few other stories and blog posts relating to this over the last few years, so it’s not exactly new. But this should be pointed out again and again until eBay brings its policies in line with how the laws are meant to work. As the writer (Scott Pilutik) at realitybasedcommunity notes:

It’s possible to argue that Scientology is engaging in price fixing, tortious interference with a contract, misrepresentation, perjury, unfair competition, discriminatory business practices, and religious discrimination, to name a few off the top of my head.

If you’re interested in more analysis on this, you really should go read his full piece. On a CoS related note – Shawn Lonsdale, an opponent of the Church of Scientology, was found dead in an apparent suicide a few days ago. Rest in peace Mr. Lonsdale.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patrick T. Lafferty Feb 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    This is a situation that eBay could rectify if they were so inclined. It would not be THAT difficult to protect such resellers; something as simple as allowing them to protest the removal would work. Pierre, et al, need to get on board with this little thing we like to call democracy.

  • 2 thetheorist Feb 20, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Patrick, I agree. It gets worse when you look at how eBay advises people to handle the situation:

    “If your listing was removed through VeRO, and you believe that your listing was removed in error, eBay suggests that you first try to contact the rights owner directly. (The email notifying you that your listing had been removed should have included the rights owner’s email address.) Only the rights owner understands their products and intellectual property rights. If the rights owner agrees that they made a mistake, have them email eBay and eBay will allow you to re-list your item.”

    See, only the Church of Scientology understands whether or not e-meters are protected. If you can convince them they are wrong, you’re home free.

    In the event that doesn’t work, you can file a Counter Claim:

    “Once a valid Counter Notice is submitted, eBay will provide a copy of the notice to the reporting party and will advise them that the listings will be reinstated after 10 business days if we do not hear from the reporting party that they have filed an action seeking a court order to restrain you from re-listing the items.”

    The problem being, of course, there is nothing stopping the CoS from immediately using their VeRO powers to once again kill the auction if it does go back up. Should the CoS oppose your Counter Notice, you’ll end up in a legal battle with them (not something most people want to do).

    eBay makes it very easy, safe and cheap for the CoS to end auctions and very complicated and possibly costly for someone to oppose them. No doubt, the system is broken.

  • 3 AtTheBat Feb 21, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    The more I read about eBay’s policies, the happier I am that I seldom have occasion to put money in their pockets. One would think that they’d be a bit more proactive in handling rights issues, but I’m sure it comes down to a business decision. That decision is, apparently, if you want to use their site to sell CoS-related items, you’re likely to wind up out of business.