If you’ve read Lance Ulanoff’s new Mashable article about Right to Repair, you know one thing for sure: Ulanoff thinks you’re too stupid to fix your own phone. Ulanoff argues that ordinary people (and third-party shops) shouldn’t be allowed to attempt consumer electronics repair. He thinks it’s possibly dangerous, and definitely too difficult to be practical. “Right-to-Repair? What a ridiculous thing to say,” Ulanoff scoffs. The only ridiculous thing here is Ulanoff’s argument.
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.
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.
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.
When you purchase a physical object, you don’t actually buy the software in it — that code belongs to someone else. If you do something the manufacturer doesn’t like — repair it, hack it, unlock it — you could lose the right to use “their” software in “your” thing. And as these lines between physical and digital blur, it pits copyright and physical ownership rights against each other.
A funny thing happened on the way to Congress yesterday. For once, lawmakers introduced a common-sense bill — the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013. If passed, the bill would give Americans freedom to do what they need with the devices they own, whether cellphone or car. You might assume that Congress will make a rational decision to guarantee our rights. But don’t kid yourself: this is an uphill battle. It’s important that we voice our support, now.