Nothing runs like a Deere, but if a farmer’s John Deere tractor breaks down, his ability to do his own repairs to make it run again is severely restricted. As farming equipment has grown more advanced, it’s not just a question of changing a few gears or a malfunctioning motor. Quite often, complicated electronics and software need to be modified to fix a broken device, and current copyright law, along with a recent agreement between the California Farm Bureau and the Equipment Dealers Association, will prevent farmers from making substantive repairs or modifications to their own property.
Unfortunately for California farmers, writes Jason Koebler in Motherboard:
In February, the Equipment Dealers Association promised to make a few concessions—notably, the group said Deere and others would begin to make repair manuals, product guides, diagnostic service tools, and on-board diagnostics available to farmers by 2021. Notably, it did not promise to actually sell repair parts, and it also contains several carve-outs that allow tractor manufacturers to continue using software locks that could prevent repair.
This is what the Equipment Dealers Association voluntarily offered to do for every farmer in the country earlier this year. In the meantime, the Equipment Dealers Association has continued to fight against comprehensive right to repair legislation, which would end their repair monopoly overnight…
It is beyond comprehension, then, why the California Farm Bureau—which should nominally have the interests of farmers in mind—reached an agreement with the Equipment Dealers Association last week that enshrines the concessions the Equipment Dealers Association already agreed to, without seemingly getting anything else out of it, and without even getting it to move up its 2021 timeline.
The earlier concessions are valuable resources, to be sure, but it’s not enough for owners of farm equipment if they are to have the ability to make more substantial fixes to their equipment. This increased access to information may seem like a right-to-repair victory, but thanks to restrictions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allow copyright holders — in this case, John Deere — to restrict access to software and make it difficult to customize their farm equipment (yes, farm equipment is covered by DMCA), access to information becomes something of a Catch-22.
This agreement, opponents argue, means a loss of momentum for right to repair laws now that the California Farm Bureau has approved to the Equipment Dealers Association’s proposal. For right-to-repair advocates, it’s a case of one step forward but two steps back.
Fortunately, a coalition made up of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Farmers Union, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation is petitioning the U.S. Copyright Office to exempt farm equipment from the DMCA.