Kate Wagner runs an architecture criticism blog called McMansion Hell, where she posts pictures and opinions of examples of what she considers poor design. Mostly she criticizes big houses that are meant to appeal to buyers’ vanities. A company called the Zillow Group sent her a cease and desist order saying the pictures she was using were protected by copyright and couldn’t be used. She did what most people would do when threatened by the lawyers of a big corporation. She shut down her blog.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. The Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF) got wind of it and stepped in to defend Ms Wagner against the specious order. They sent a couple of strongly worded letters to Zillow’s lawyers and let them know they weren’t going to get away with their bullying.
EFF staff attorney Daniel Nazer said, “Our client has no obligation to, and thus will not, comply with Zillow’s demands. Zillow’s legal threats are not supported and plainly seek to interfere with protected speech.”
Zillow quickly changed its tune, claiming that they never had any intention of interfering with Ms Wagner’s freedom of expression. They just thought they were protecting the copyright of the owners of the images she was taking from Zillow’s website. The EFF let them know that they were wrong.
The McMansion Hell blog is back up and running and Ms Wagner is breathing easily again. Chalk up another one for the EFF, those heroes who defend our freedoms.
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.
This is an update on previous posts on Green Comet, one on the John Deere debacle, and one on the champions of fixing our own stuff, iFixit. This one is about a change to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) that allows car owners to make modifications to their cars without breaking the law.
The DMCA exemptions were announced in 2015, but they took a whole year to go into effect.
Last Fall I published an article about iFixit, the activist group trying to make it safe, even possible for people to fix their own stuff. That article referred to a Wired article about the John Deere company trying to make it illegal for farmers to fix their own tractors. Now Modern Farmer has an article about how farmers feel about that.
– This might be hard to believe for non-farmers, but owners of tractors aren’t actually allowed to fix them, thanks to a set of laws designed to protect software intellectual property.
– John Deere, the world’s largest tractor maker, said that the folks who buy tractors don’t own them, not in the way the general public believes “ownership” works. Instead, John Deere said that those who buy tractors are actually purchasing an “implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”
– Farmers are fed up with being forced to endure long, inefficient repair processes.
I’m tired of people using copyright this way. It’s bad enough that copyright has been extended so far that the original creator’s grandchildren will be dead before it expires. Now it’s being used to curtail competition in business. Could someone please throw a pitcher of ice water on our politicians? We need to break their thrall.
As you know, my novels are published with a Creative Commons license. I use Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA), but there are other variations, depending on how you want to share your work. TechnoLlama, a blog I follow, has a piece on the resurgence of antipathy toward Creative Commons. (TechnoLlama by Andres Guadamuz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.) That license is the same as the one I use, with the addition of the NonCommercial part. That means that Andres doesn’t want people re-using his work for commercial purposes, while I don’t mind if they do.
It is hard to imagine nowadays, but for a few years during the last decade Creative Commons was relentlessly attacked by some content owners, copyright maximalists and collective societies.
However, I have noticed a resurgence in criticism of Creative Commons.
Creative Commons has been extremely successful since its creation, and we must welcome debate and input about things that can be improved. At some point CC was seen as anti-establishment, a direct attack on copyright from clueless academics and pirates. After the open access movement gained traction, an interesting transition occurred, CC became a part of the establishment.
I’m glad that Creative Commons came along when it did. It took the copyright that is automatically applied to creative works and gave it greater scope and flexibility. Now, thanks to CC, I can share my work under my terms, while still retaining the power and authority of copyright. Before CC the only option was to declare the work Public Domain, relinquishing copyright.