As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act review process, the Copyright Office recently asked the public to weigh in on which devices should be legal to tinker with, hack, and repair. Well, they got what they asked for. In a big way. On Friday, iFixit sent its own statements in support of reform to the Copyright Office. And with our comments, we all also sent yours. All 40,755 of them. Those comments will help the Librarian of Congress decide what you have the right to modify and repair.
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.
Just how much e-waste is piling it up around the globe? A new infographic from CustomMade breaks down the good, the bad, and the deadly. According to CustomMade, “the global volume of refrigerators, TVs, cellphones, computers, monitors, and other electronic waste will weigh almost as much as 200 Empire State Buildings”—evidence that our existing “out of sight, out of mind” mentality really isn’t a viable long-term option when it comes to e-waste.
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.
Earlier this year, we told you about Keurig’s attempt to quash off-brand coffee by integrating DRM into its newest model of brewing machine. At the time, we thought that coffee barons locking their customers into name-brand coffee pods was the most boneheaded deployment of DRM we’d ever seen. Turns out, we were wrong. You know what else features DRM these days? Kitty litter. Welcome to the future, people. Now, even your cat’s crap comes with a steaming side of corporate crap.
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.
In August, President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, a law ensuring that US companies and consumers have the right to unlock their own cellphones. Now, just a few months later, the American people are petitioning the Librarian of Congress for that same right again. That’s politics, folks.
Strap in, folks—because we’re about to talk copyright law. I’m aware that as soon as I string the words “copyright” and “law” together, eyes start to glaze over. I get it. Copyright law doesn’t break the internet. But important things hardly ever do. Believe it or not, copyright law is shaping up to be the next big battleground in technology. And it’s fundamentally redefining ownership.
Computers have fans that clog and slow long before the computer fails. A small tear in a jacket is not a problem, until the rip catches on a branch and suddenly you’re standing in a feathery nest of down insulation. A phone battery holds less charge before it holds no charge. To be a conscientious fixer is to recognize that repair is an intervention that must occur between functioning and complete failure.
The new unlocking law in the U.S. only covers cell phones. Other devices—like tablets, consoles, and even cars—remain locked down. What’s more, our world is becoming ever more computerized. Everyday items, like fridges and thermostats, are just as much computer as they are plastic and metal. Shouldn’t consumers be able to unlock them, too? That’s what we think. And so does the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit civil liberties organization.