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Right to Repair (John Deere)


WIRED OPINION by Kyle Wiens, Elizabeth Chamberlain

The fight for our right to repair the stuff we own has suffered a huge setback.

As anyone who repairs electronics knows, keeping a device in working order often means fixing both its hardware and software. But a big California farmers’ lobbying group just blithely signed away farmers’ right to access or modify the source code of any farm equipment software. As an organization representing 2.5 million California agriculture jobs, the California Farm Bureau gave up the right to purchase repair parts without going through a dealer. Farmers can’t change engine settings, can’t retrofit old equipment with new features, and can’t modify their tractors to meet new environmental standards on their own. Worse, the lobbyists are calling it a victory.

The ability to maintain their own equipment is a big deal to farmers. When it’s harvest time and the combine goes kaput, they can’t wait several days for John Deere to send out a repair technician. Plus, farmers are a pretty handy bunch. They’ve been fixing their own equipment forever. Why spend thousands of dollars on an easy fix? But as agricultural equipment gets more and more sophisticated and electronic, the tools needed to repair equipment are increasingly out of reach of the people who rely on it most. That’s amplified by the fact that John Deere (and the other equipment companies represented by the Far West Equipment Dealers Association) have been exploiting copyright laws to lock farmers out of their own stuff.

Repair is a huge business. And repair monopolies are profitable. Just ask Apple, which has lobbied over and over against making repair parts and information available to third-party repair shops. That’s why Big Ag has been so reluctant to make any concessions to the growing right-to-repair movement.

At first blush, last week’s deal between the Farm Bureau and the equipment dealers might look like a win for farmers. The press release describes how equipment dealers have agreed to provide “access to service manuals, product guides, on-board diagnostics and other information that would help a farmer or rancher to identify or repair problems with the machinery.” Fair enough. These are all things fixers need.

But without access to parts and diagnostic software, it’s not enough to enable farmers to fix their own equipment. “I will gladly welcome more ways to fix the equipment on my farm. Let’s be clear, though, this is not right-to-repair,” explained San Luis Obispo rancher Jeff Buckingham. “At the end of the day, I bought this equipment, and I want everything I need to keep it running without relying on the manufacturer or dealer.”

There’s also nothing new in the agreement. John Deere and friends had already made every single “concession” earlier this year, and service manuals had already been available to purchase. They must have read the writing on the wall when California’s Electronics Right to Repair Act was introduced in March. Right-to-repair bills have proved overwhelmingly popular with voters—Massachusetts passed its automobile right-to-repair bill in 2012 with 86 percent voter support.

Just after the California bill was introduced, the farm equipment manufacturers started circulating a flyer titled “Manufacturers and Dealers Support Commonsense Repair Solutions.” In that document, they promised to provide manuals, guides, and other information by model year 2021. But the flyer insisted upon a distinction between a right to repair a vehicle and a right to modify software, a distinction that gets murky when software controls all of a tractor’s operations.
As Jason Koebler of Motherboard reported, that flyer is strikingly similar—in some cases, identical word-for-word—to the agreement the Farm Bureau just brokered. The flyer and the agreement list the same four restrictions:

  • No resetting immobilizer systems.
  • No reprogramming electronic control units or engine control modules.
  • No changing equipment or engine settings that might negatively affect emissions or safety.
  • No downloading or accessing the source code of any proprietary embedded software.
These restrictions are enormous. If car mechanics couldn’t reprogram car computers, a good portion of modern repairs just wouldn’t be possible. When you hire a mechanic to fix the air-conditioning in a Civic, they may have to reprogram the electronic control unit. When electronics control the basic functions of all major farm equipment, a single malfunctioning sensor can bring a machine to its knees. Modifying software is a routine part of modern repair.
Prohibiting modifications to systems that might affect emissions also means that farmers can’t upgrade tractors to meet new requirements. This could force farmers to buy new equipment when emissions standards change—an insidious move toward planned obsolescence.
That’s why a national group of farmers has been fighting for their right to modify software. Together, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Farmers Union are working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to petition the US Copyright Office to exempt farm equipment from the anti-modification provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has been bafflingly stretched to cover tractors and combines (equipment manufacturers claim they’re worried about piracy). The petition explains:
It is necessary to access the electronic control units to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning agricultural vehicle, as well as to lawfully modify the functions of a vehicle based on the owner’s specific needs in cultivating his or her land.
There are many farmers modifying their equipment to fit their land’s needs. Members of the farm equipment electronics community Farm Hack have designed custom 3-D-printed seed rollers, programmed Arduinos to consolidate greenhouse operations, and developed all kinds of sensors and warning lights. A group of university students at Cal Poly is working to reverse-engineer John Deere’s software protocol. And a third-party company called Farmobile makes a device that plugs into all different kinds of large farm equipment so farmers can access their data without going through John Deere.

Where California farmers go, the rest of America follows—and in this case, that’s dangerous. The state produces more food by far than any other in the nation, accounting for two-thirds of all US-grown fruit and nuts. By agreeing to the spurious distinction between “repair” and “modification,” the California Farm Bureau just made the EFF’s job a lot harder. Instead of presenting a unified right-to-repair front, this milquetoast agreement muddies the conversation. More worryingly, it could cement a cultural precedent for electronics manufacturers who want to block third-party repair technicians from accessing a device’s software.
As a nation of repair advocates, we need to reject toothless deals like this. We must define right to repair in a way that supports the needs of individuals and small growers, not the bottom line of enormous corporations.
This deal is no right-to-repair victory. Don’t let John Deere—or the California Farm Bureau—call it one. Real progress isn’t going to come until a state passes real Right to Repair legislation. And momentum is building. Twenty states, including Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, considered bills this year. Although none have passed yet, John Deere is clearly feeling the heat.

17,524 Posts
I copied this from the Gear Grinder thread, but heard some new info today so I felt like it should be it's own thread. I know they where other responses there, but it was to much to try to find them all in that long thread.

17,524 Posts
From this article: Maryland Suddenly Looks Like it Might Break John Deere's Repair Monopoly

Maryland Suddenly Looks Like it Might Break John Deere's Repair Monopoly

Maryland has suddenly become the most interesting state considering right to repair. It’s the first state where its attorney general has officially supported legislation that would make it easier for consumers to repair their electronics; the electronics industry, meanwhile, continues to vehemently oppose it.
Both Maryland’s House and Senate had right-to-repair hearings on Wednesday. Both bills have wide support in the legislature and, in an unprecedented move, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection advocating for the bills, which specifically took issue with the common refrain from manufacturers that right to repair would hurt device security.

“The Division believes that the manufacturers’ contentions that introducing competition in electronics repair will harm consumers’ privacy and security is without foundation,” said the letter, obtained by Motherboard.
Right to repair legislation would require electronics manufacturers like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and dozens of others to sell repair parts to the public and to make repair manuals and tools available to everyone.
“The manufacturers’ arguments against allowing independent repair shops to repair electronics are similar to those previously made by automobile manufacturers who opposed allowing consumers to have their cars repaired at the repair facility of their choice without voiding the vehicle warranty,” it said. The Division said that passing a right-to-repair law for cars led to more repair options and lower costs for consumers. “There is no reason why electronics should be treated differently.”
The Maryland House Economic Matters Committee listened to arguments from sponsors, supporters, and detractors of House Bill 1124 for 90 minutes. Emily Scarr, the Director of U.S. PIRG in Maryland—a group that lobbies for the right-to-repair across the country—said corporate lobbyists have just begun to come out against the bill.
“The opposition that’s been most visible is from John Deere,” Scarr told Motherboard over the phone ahead of the committee hearing. “We’ve heard rumors that they’ve cut a deal with the American Farm Bureau to keep the Farm Bureau from lobbying in support of the bill.”

And it’s not just John Deere. “Video game manufacturers have shown up at a couple of delegate offices concerned about piracy, which we don’t think is founded,” Scarr said.
Representatives from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) did speak at the meeting. “This is not just a screen fixing bill,” Katherine Gunter of the ESA said during the meeting. “This is the mandate of intellectual property to unauthorized repair shops...our companies take it upon themselves to get their repairs fixed as quickly and affordably as possible.”
Gunter and the ESA claimed that House Bill 1124 would make video game console manufacturers vulnerable to piracy and intellectual property theft. Piracy exists independent of the right-to-repair and it’s unclear how allowing people to fix their own broken consoles would lead to more of it. What was clear, however, was the video game industry’s feelings on allowing customers to repair their own stuff. “I just wanted to emphasize that, as an industry, we really oppose the right-to-repair,” Gunter said.
Despite the opposition, Scarr is optimistic about the bills. “I’ve had legislators approaching us. This is not a bill we brought to them,” she said. “For a couple of years now, we’ve had Republican and Democratic legislators contacting us saying their constituents want them to put this bill in.”
According to Scarr, Maryland is uniquely ready for a right-to-repair bill. “We’re a tech savvy place,” she said. “We’re near D.C., we have lots of folks who work in the tech industry. We also have a large farming community and people care deeply about their farmers, so they don’t want their farmers to be price gouged or ripped off.”

“As somebody that’s sitting here with a cracked iPhone screen, and I’ve got into Apple, they literally won’t fix it,” Maryland State Delegate Brian Crosby said during the meeting. “That’s a valid concern that people are bringing up. And I only know that because I’m sitting here with it.”
The committee meetings are just one step on a long road to Maryland passing a right-to-repair law, and dozens of other states are also considering similar bills. The legislation needs to go through more committees and floor votes before consumers in Maryland can legally repair their own stuff. “We don’t know how strong the opposition will be nor how strong the support will be,” Scarr said. “I’ve had people who I don’t know texting me all morning saying they’re coming because they care about this issue. That’s something I’m not used to.”
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