Copyrights and Scientology
According to wikipedia, the version of the Xenu story from Scientology shown on South Park was slightly inaccurate, which may have been in order to avoid being sued for copyright infringement by the Church of Scientology.
For those unfamiliar, Scientology tells us that an evil galactic warlord named Xenu (or sometimes 'Xemu') sent a bunch of frozen people to Earth and blew them up with hydrogen bombs around 75 million years ago. The souls, or "thetans" of those people were trapped here on Earth and now cling to modern-day humans, causing physical and mental illness. But, for instance, in the South Park version of the story, the people were just thrown into volcanoes rather than being blown up by bombs. The changes aren't significant in the overall point of the story (kind of like if you changed Jesus' "water into wine" story into a "water into beer" story).
But this made me consider the fact that the Church of Scientology is allowed to copyright what are, in effect, their religious texts. This isn't so much true with most other religions I am familiar with. Heck, most religions seem only too happy to give their scriptures away for free, even leaving them in hotel rooms. (I'm looking at you, Mormons and Gideons). Though it does appear that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is copyrighted, but the Catechism is more of a commentary and practical interpretation of the scriptures than actual scripture itself, sort of like the Mishnah.
But I just have to wonder, by what right does the Church of Scientology get to control the distribution of stories they purport to be true accounts of actual history? By what right can the Truth be copyrighted? If I really am inhabited by thetans who were once citizens of the Galactic Confederacy who were obliterated by hydrogen bombs by the evil warlord Xenu, what right does the Church of Scientology have to keep that from me?
Here's what I think. In the US, religion has, legally, a privileged status, being expressly protected by the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. This is, in part, why religious organizations and churches are tax exempt, because taxing them could, in effect, harm the right of free religious expression. People on the right like to say that, "Rights aren't free; rights come with responsibilities," or words to that effect. I agree. And I think that, along with the right not to be interfered with by government, religious organizations should have the responsibility to make the Truth (as they see it) freely available. I don't think they should be allowed to copyright their scriptures and essential beliefs.
For one thing, how can we know if an organization is genuinely "religious" or just a scam unless we can freely examine their product? And why should religions be allowed to have "trade secrets" as if they're competing businesses? They're not, after all, or else they should pay their taxes like everyone else. Their product is doctrine, dogma, the Truth as they see it, and all those things should compete equally in the marketplace of ideas. If Microsoft has to make Windows code available to its competitors, why should Scientology have to make its doctrines available to other churches as well?
Plus, I think government-enforced copyright of religious material is, itself, a violation of the 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]." Consider this: there are already schisms in the Scientology movement. The rebel groups are collectively known as the "Free Zone." They can't call themselves Scientologists or their movements Scientology, or even, apparently, anything like "The New Reformed Church of Scientology," nor can they reprint or pass around or use Scientologist scripture in the things they do, because that stuff is copyrighted. Well, wait a minute! How, in this instance, is government-enforced copyright not interfering in the "free exercise" of religion by Free Zoners? The 1st Amendment, to my eyes, virtually forbids religious organizations copyrighting religious materials, because by definition the government's power cannot be used to limit the spread and dissemination of such materials, since that will limit the right of free exercise of religion.
Just a thought.