We’ve looked at the way tractor manufacturers are trying to lock their customers in by preventing the servicing or maintenance of their tractors by anyone other than their own approved and licensed shops. This post is about farmers beginning to push back. This one highlights a change in copyright law that allows farmers to work on their own tractors without breaking the law. Now some farmers are going a little further. Some of them are downloading software from the dark web that allows them to hack their tractor’s software. This motherboard article does a good job of explaining it.
A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for “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.”
[farmers]…have been pushing for right-to-repair legislation in Nebraska that would invalidate John Deere’s license agreement (seven other states are considering similar bills). In the meantime, farmers have started hacking their machines because even simple repairs are made impossible by the embedded software within the tractor. John Deere is one of the staunchest opponents of this legislation.
Waiting for a licensed technician to show up can put a big dent in your work day, sometimes your work week, depending on how busy they are. Even in a case where you can get a part replaced by a local shop, you still have to wait for the official technician to come and “authorize” it before your tractor will work. Everything is fine but you’re helpless until they collect their fee for unlocking the new part. It doesn’t matter how much it costs you, or how much it sets you back in your work, or even if the delay causes you to lose your crop. That’s your problem, not theirs. Faced with this, some farmers are turning to cracked software that they can download from the internet. They are then able to “authorize” their own repairs and get back to work.
The recent legislation that allows farmers to work on their own tractors would seem to make using the cracked software legal, but the software hasn’t been legally acquired. Versions of the software can be legally purchased from the manufacturer, but you have to sign an agreement that disallows using it to do what you want. It’s not hard to see why some farmers would be tempted by the cracked software when the whole purpose of the company that sold them the tractor seems to be to use its monopoly power to squeeze more money out of them.
This has been about farmers and their tractors, but the same thing is happening with other things that we buy and think we own. The makers of cars and phones and computers and so on are all trying variations of the same thing. They want us to get used to the idea that we don’t own these things, but rather we only get a license to use them. They want us to get used to their idea that we should have no right to repair our own stuff. Thank goodness for the existence of organizations like iFixit.