Over 3 million men and women work in America’s repair and maintenance industry. Maybe I don’t have a lot of faith in politics, but I think those 3 million people have more tangible impact on our lives than the squabbling politicians in Washington. And yet, a copyright law written by Washington insiders nearly two decades ago is threatening the livelihoods of those 3 million people.
Hoist your wrenches into the air, folks. As of today, October 28, you can now hack, repair, and conduct security research on your own car—or tractor!—without risking jail time for copyright infringement. Exactly one year ago, the Copyright Office granted exemptions for repairing, modifying, and conducting security research on your own vehicle. And those exemptions go into effect today.
A tinkerer, a security researcher, and a digital rights watchdog just filed a lawsuit against the United States government, challenging the country’s most embattled copyright law: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Passed nearly two decades ago, the law governs the space where traditional copyright and modern technology collide. The lawsuit, filed today, contends that Section 1201 of the DMCA violates free speech under the First Amendment.
We talk a lot about why it’s getting harder to fix electronics. Not just because of how those devices are designed, but also because a lot manufacturers don’t want anyone to know how to fix them. And those companies can issue legal threats to keep repair information out of public view. It looks like Louis Rossmann, an independent Apple repair tech from NYC, is fending off a legal attack from one of those companies.
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.
General Motors just backpedaled its position on car hacking. The carmaker recently opened a pathway for non-malicious hackers to report security vulnerabilities in GM cars, reports Wired—despite previously opposing efforts to legalize independent security research by hackers under US copyright law.
On Monday, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens will participate in a round table discussion with Representative Bob Goodlatte, Members of the House Judiciary, and other stakeholders to discuss the future of US copyright law. The listening session is part of an ongoing effort by the House Judiciary Committee to reassess the intersection between copyright law, ownership rights, and modern technology.
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.
Geoffrey Fowler has a friend with a Samsung TV that inexplicably stopped working halfway through a movie. Geoff’s friend thought she had no other option than to replace it. Geoffrey—a writer with Wall Street Journal—wondered what it would take to fix the flat screen TV. And so, he went down the repair rabbit hole.
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.