Nest Labs, pioneering overlords of our smarthome future, is about to do something pretty inhospitable to customers. On Sunday, they will pull the plug on Revolv—a home automation hub that Nest acquired almost two years ago. If you own a Revolv, your home will shut off. Your lights will turn off. Your doors will stay locked—or unlocked. All that automation that you painstakingly set up? It’s quitting. On Sunday, Nest will brick people’s smart homes—and owners can’t do a thing to stop it.
People don’t want to own anything anymore. They much prefer licenses that let them use it. At least that’s what lawyers from The Software Alliance and the Motion Picture Association of America told the Copyright Office. Through an unlikely sequence of events, I found myself sitting across the table from them late last month at a series of “roundtables” on copyright law. Unlikely, because I’m a repairman. Copyright law should have nothing to do with me. But it does.
This morning, Apple apologized and admitted that Error 53 was a mistake as opposed to a deliberate security feature: “this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers,” Apple said to TechCrunch. They also released a patch to iOS 9.2.1 that purports to fix Error 53—”unbricking” phones disabled by the problem and preventing it from happening in future phones repaired outside of Apple’s network. But wait, let’s verify that the fix actually works before we celebrate.
This morning, Copyright Office decided which of your own devices are legal to investigate, modify, and hack—bringing a close to our year-long saga of legal gunslinging, negotiation, fact finding, hearings, and deliberation over US copyright law. Along with a coalition of activists, recyclers, and legal clinics, were able to overcome the objections of manufacturers and secure exemptions for repairing tractors, cars, and tablets.
Unfortunately, the iFixit app is no longer available through the App Store. Apple sent us a developer’s unit of the Apple TV, and we tore it down—which technically violated their terms and conditions, so they closed our developer account which resulted in our app being pulled from the App Store. Oops. We apologize if you’ve been inconvenienced. The good news is that we’ve put a lot of work into our mobile site. You can still get full functionality from iFixit on an iOS device.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for Wired criticizing John Deere’s assertion that farmers shouldn’t be allowed to access the programming in their own tractors—not even for the purpose of repair, modification, or diagnosis. The op-ed sparked a good deal of public furor—and apparently, John Deere felt the need to clarify a few things to its dealer network. See what they had to say on our blog.
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. In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere 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.
I squatted down in the dirt and took stock of my inadequate tools. Over my left shoulder a massive John Deere tractor loomed. I came here to fix that tractor. So far, things weren’t going as planned. One hour later, I hopped back out of the cab of the tractor. Defeated. I was unable to breach the wall of proprietary defenses that protected the tECU like a fortress. I couldn’t even connect to the computer. Because John Deere says I can’t.
Under the pretense of enforcing copyright law, manufacturers have been systematically chipping away at our ownership rights. That’s not acceptable. And iFixit isn’t just going to stand by and watch it happen. Today, we draw a line in the sand. iFixit is proud to announce the Digital Right to Repair Coalition—a united front of consumers, environmental organizations, the aftermarket, and digital rights advocacy groups. Together, we are fighting to take back control of the things we own.
Cars have a profound legacy of tinkering. Hobbyists have always modded them, rearranged their guts, and reframed their exteriors. Which is why it’s mind-boggling to me that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) just had to ask permission from the Copyright Office for tinkerers to modify and repair their own cars.
For more than a decade, the visually-impaired have been locked in an excruciatingly slow and circuitous battle against US copyright laws. And it’s left the visually-impaired with few options but to hack their way around digital barriers—just for the simple pleasure of reading a book.