Friday, March 24, 2017

Farmers, Tractors, and DMCA

This falls under the category of 'you never know what will become a copyright issue.'
Tractors U.S. farmers are battling with manufacturers over who can repair their tractors.  Manufacturers are installing firmware on the tractors, which inhibits non-authorized service centers from doing repairs.  However, farmers note that they cannot wait for an authorized dealer to do the repairs, because Mother Natures doesn't wait.  In order to speed up the repairs, farmers are allowing their tractors to be hacked.  Quoting Vice news:
On its face, pirating such software would seem to be illegal. But in 2015, the Librarian of Congress approved an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for land vehicles, which includes tractors. The exemption allows modification of "computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial motor vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle … when circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorized owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair, or lawful modification of a vehicle function." what they are doing might be legal (emphasis on the word "might"), however, the manufacturers disagree. In addition to the hacking, farmers are pushing for new legislation at the state level.
The “Fair Repair” bill was designed to give owners increased rights over the software-embedded equipment and electronic items they purchase.
So far, none of the "Fair Repair" bills have passed. New reports state that opponents of these bills have included tractor manufacturers and technology companies, such as John Deere, Case IH, and Apple.  Tech companies view the bills as being too all-encompassing. 

I find this fascinating, especially since I can see problems occurring with cars, etc., that might include software/firmware which inhibits who can repair them.  I grew up watching my next door neighbor tear apart and rebuild engines.  In addition to those engines getting more complex, could manufacturers use DMCA to stop "unauthorized" repairs?

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