from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
For the last few years, numerous states have been pushing so-called “right to repair” bills, which would make it easier for consumers to repair their own products and find replacement parts and tools. Not surprisingly, many tech companies have been working overtime to kill these efforts including Apple, which has tried to argue that Nebraska’s right to repair bill would turn the state into a nefarious playground for hackers. Opposition also includes Sony and Microsoft, both of which enjoy a repair monopoly on their respective video game consoles.
Whether coming from Apple, Sony, or Microsoft, opposition to these bills usually focuses on the three (false) ideas: the bills will make users less safe, somehow “compromise” intellectual property, and open the door to cybersecurity theft.
Much of the current right to repair fracas began with the lowly tractor. More specifically, it started when John Deere decided to ban anything but “unauthorized repairs,” inadvertently turning countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists. A lengthy EULA the company required customers to sign back in 2016 forbids the lion-share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned, simultaneously banning these consumers from suing over “crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment ? arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software.”
As ordinary farmers hack their way around these restrictions just to make a living (often utilizing Ukranian firmware), California recently joined the attempt to codify the right to repair into law. But that effort was derailed this week with the news that California’s biggest farmer lobbying organization decided to sell out its constituents and support a watered down version of California’s proposal.
Back in February, the Equipment Dealers Association promised a few concessions in a bid to stall legislation; including making repair manuals, diagnostic tech and other service tools widely available to farmers by 2021. They did not, however, address efforts to hamstring third-party part sales, the use of DRM to lock down devices, and continued to battle right to repair legislation in numerous states. The California Farm Bureau (which again is supposed to represent the farmers on this issue) this week struck a “concession” deal with the Equipment Dealers Association that isn’t much of a concession.
In fact, said “new” concession closely mirrors things the industry had already voluntarily agreed to:
“It is beyond comprehension…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.”
?This agreement is especially important because whenever we can resolve issues that concern us without passing laws, everybody wins,? Joani Woelfel, the CEO of the Far West Equipment Dealers Association, said in a statement.
Well, not everybody. The core problems here owners have grown angry about (DRM, intentionally making it harder for third-party repair shops to get parts) weren’t really addressed, and the “compromise” not only isn’t much of one, but it kills the California effort for effective right to repair laws. Needless to say, activists looking for more meaningful action see this as a massive sellout:
“When it is up to the manufacturer to decide what information to share and what to withhold, you haven’t addressed the problem,” Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of the Repair Association, which is leading the right to repair movement, told Motherboard in an email. “We’re also concerned that the agreement fails to mention anything about fair and reasonable pricing for parts, nor any mention of how farmers will get firmware, updates or patches.”
“This agreement does not end monopolization of farm equipment repair,? Nathan Proctor, who is heading consumer rights group US PIRG?s right to repair efforts, told me in an email. ?While it highlights how industry is feeling the pressure from Right to Repair, it also underscores that we need to do more if truly want the freedom to fix our property.”
Unfortunately for hardware vendors and companies like John Deere, this isn’t a fight that’s going to be going away any time soon. The tighter companies like John Deere lock down their products with draconian DRM and annoying restrictions on what consumers can do, the more activists they create who previously may have never even gotten involved in such fights. As it stands, there are pushes for right to repair laws in nearly 20 states, and the tighter these companies squeeze, the more support for these initiatives they generate.