Opinion Editorial by Kyle Wiens
IT’S OFFICIAL: JOHN Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.
In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”
It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.
Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.
Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.
(This is an important issue for farmers: a neighbor, Kerry Adams, hasn’t been able to fix an expensive transplanter because he doesn’t have access to the diagnostic software he needs. He’s not alone: many farmers are opting for older, computer-free equipment.)
Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software that powers the products they buy.
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Kyle Wiens is the co-founder and CEO of iFixit, an online repair community an parts retailer internationally renowened for their open source repair manuals and product teardowns.
Northern Ag Network Note: Just as a follow-up to this article: We thought this was a great comment made on Facebook regarding this article from a local man who works for John Deere: “I work for a John Deere dealer, and I can tell you that John Deere isn't laying claim to your purchase. This is just about protecting their software. I handle the JD Link technology as well, and John Deere states that the information there is all third party to them. This means that all of that data belongs to you, and they have to be invited ( along with the dealerships) to view or even utilize that info. When you make that last payment, the machine is yours, but the concept, software, and idea's that make it a John Deere belong to John Deere. That is where you the owner have a “license to operate”. The only reason they would take your equipment is if you become delinquent with your payments.”