With the powers of copyright law, the DMCA, and EULA’s combined, manufacturers are doing a bang-up job of killing the non-OEM repair industry. As more companies put digital locks over our gadgets, then—under the DMCA—they’ll be the only ones who can fix that stuff. They can sue anyone who tries to break up a repair monopoly, or anyone who’s shared their diagnostic codes. When you buy something, you should own it. You should have the right to repair it yourself.
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.
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.