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<nettime> WiReD: We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Owners
nettime mod squad on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 05:59:11 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> WiReD: We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership


<http://www.wired.com/2015/04/dmca-ownership-john-deere/>


We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership


     * Kyle Wiens Business
     * 04.21.15
     * 9:00 am

           We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership

   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.

   In recent years, some companies have even leveraged the DMCA to
   stop owners from modifying the programming on those products. This
   means you can't strip DRM off smart kitty litter boxes, install
   custom software on your iPad, or alter the calibration on a
   tractor's engine. Not without potentially running afoul of the
   DMCA.

   What does any of that have to do with copyright? Owners, tinkerers, and
   homebrew "hackers" must copy programming so they can modify it. Product
   makers don't like people messing with their stuff, so some
   manufacturers place digital locks over software. Breaking the lock,
   making the copy, and changing something could be construed as a
   violation of copyright law.

   And that's how manufacturers turn tinkerers into "pirates"--even if
   said "pirates" aren't circulating illegal copies of anything. Makes
   sense, right? Yeah, not to me either.

   It makes sense to John Deere: The company argues that allowing
   people to alter the software--even for the purpose of repair--would
   "make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less
   innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique
   expression and ingenuity of vehicle software." The pièce de résistance
   in John Deere's argument: permitting owners to root around in a
   tractor's programming might lead to pirating music through a
   vehicle's entertainment system. Because copyright-marauding farmers are
   very busy and need to multitask by simultaneously copying Taylor
   Swift's 1989 and harvesting corn? (I'm guessing, because John Deere's
   lawyers never explained why anyone would pirate music on a tractor,
   only that it could happen.)

   John Deere is a company, by the way, that is seriously serious about
   preventing people from copying their stuff. So serious, in fact, that
   they even locked the PDF they sent to the Copyright Office. No
   modifying the document. And no copying passages. Really, John Deere?
   How am I supposed to highlight all that's wrong in this document now?
   John Deere is a company, by the way, that is seriously serious about
   preventing people from copying their stuff. So serious, in fact, that
   they even locked the PDF they sent to the Copyright Office. No
   modifying the document. And no copying passages. Really, John Deere?
   How am I supposed to highlight all that's wrong in this document now?
   Screenshot by Kyle Wiens

   John Deere may be out of touch, but it's not alone. Other corporations,
   including trade groups representing nearly every major
   automaker, made the same case to the Copyright Office again and
   again. It's worth noting Tesla Motors didn't join automakers in this
   argument, even though its cars rely heavily on proprietary software.

   General Motors told the Copyright Office that proponents of
   copyright reform mistakenly "conflate ownership of a vehicle with
   ownership of the underlying computer software in a vehicle." But I'd
   bet most Americans make the same conflation--and Joe Sixpack might be
   surprised to learn GM owns a giant chunk of the Chevy sitting in his
   driveway.

   Other automakers pointed out that owners who make unsanctioned
   modifications could alter their vehicles in bad ways. They could tweak
   them to go faster. Or change engine parameters to run afoul of
   emissions regulations.

   Joe Sixpack might be surprised to learn GM owns a giant chunk of the
   Chevy sitting in his driveway.

   They're right. That could happen. But those activities are (1) already
   illegal, and (2) have nothing to do with copyright. If you're going too
   fast, a cop should stop you--copyright law shouldn't. If you're dodging
   emissions regulations, you should pay EPA fines--not DMCA fines. And
   the specter of someone doing something illegal shouldn't justify
   shutting down all the reasonable and legal modifications people can
   make to the things they paid for.

   GM went so far as to argue locking people out helps innovation.
   That's like saying locking up books will inspire kids to be innovative
   writers, because they won't be tempted to copy passages from a
   Hemingway novel. Meanwhile, outside of Bizarroland, actual technology
   experts--including the Electronic Frontier Foundation--have
   consistently labeled the DMCA an innovation killer. They insist that,
   rather than stopping content pirates, language in the DMCA has been
   used to stifle competition and expand corporate control over the life
   (and afterlife) of products.

   "The bad part is, my sense is, these companies are just locking up this
   technology, and increasing the sort of monopoly pricing structure that
   just doesn't work for us," Brian Talley, a farmer on California's
   central coast, says of restrictions placed on his equipment. I toured
   his farm with a fellow from the Intellectual Property & Technology Law
   Clinic so we could tell the Copyright Office how manufacturers are
   hampering farmers. "We are used to operating independently, and that's
   one of the great things about being a farmer. And in this particular
   space, they are really taking that away from us."

   The notion of actually owning the things you buy has become
   revolutionary.

   The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Intellectual Property &
   Technology Law Clinic, and the Digital Right to Repair Coalition
   (Disclaimer: I'm a founding member of the Coalition.) are fighting to
   preserve the notion of ownership. We're trying to open the floodgates
   of information. To let owners investigate the code in their devices. To
   modify them for better functionality. To repair them, even without the
   blessing of manufacturer.

   Thankfully, we aren't alone. There's a backlash against the slow creep
   of corporate product control.

   Earlier this year, consumers sent 40,000 comments to the Copyright
   Office--all of them urging the restoration of ownership rights. The
   year before, consumers and activists forced a law through Congress
   that made it legal to unlock a cellphone and move it to a different
   carrier.

   This week, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Jared Polis will
   introduce the "Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation Act of 2015,
   which would substantially improve the DMCA process. Lawmakers in
   Minnesota and New York have introduced "Fair Repair" legislation that
   assert an owner's right to repair electronic equipment they've
   purchased. They want equal access to repair information, replacement
   parts, and security updates.

   Of course, taking back the stuff that we own won't be easy.
   Corporations have better lobbyists than the rest of us. And, somehow,
   the notion of actually owning the things you buy has become
   revolutionary.

   It doesn't have to be. Tell the Copyright Office to side with
   consumers when it decides which gadgets are legal to modify and repair.
   Urge lawmakers to support legislation like the Unlocking Technology
   Act and the Your Own Devices Act, because we deserve the keys to
   our own products. And support Fair Repair legislation.

   If you bought it, you should own it--simple as that. It's time
   corporate lawyers left the bullshit to the farmers, who actually need
   it.



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