An article in Modern Farmer yesterday (I like to keep up on farming, since I have a small plot of sorghum growing in my shower) reminded me of the plight of farmers to keep the right to fix their own machinery. Gearheads managed to get this right protected last year, but, right now, farmers are still under John Deere’s big green and yellow thumb.

In case you’ve blocked it from your memory, there was a struggle last year between people who wanted to work, modify, or tinker with the cars they own, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers—a lobbying group that represents numerous carmakers including BMW, For, General Motors and more.

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The Alliance spoke out against an exemption in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would allow owners to work on their own cars. The argument was, essentially, that modern cars run computer code that the owner doesn’t really own, and so that means owners shouldn’t be allowed to work on their cars. As the Alliance said:

“vehicles are so intertwined that they shouldn’t (for security and safety and environmental reasons) be allowed to be tinkered with.”

Of course, this is bullshit, and happily the exemption was upheld, but not, it seems for farm equipment.

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John Deere gets special mention there because they’re the worst offenders in this fight, redefining tractor ownership in a letter to the Copyright Office as:

“... the vehicle owner receives an implied license for the life of the vehicle, subject to any warranty limitations, disclaimers, or contractual limitations...”

That doesn’t exactly sound like “ownership” to me. Also, John Deere also made this insane justification for laws to keep tractor owners from working on their own machines:

John Deere even argued that letting people modify car computer systems will result in them pirating music through the on-board entertainment system ... (and the exemption process doesn’t authorize copyright infringement, anyway).

Oh boy.

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As of right now, since farmers don’t enjoy the exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that gearheads managed to secure, it’s still illegal for a farmer to even attempt to diagnose an issue with their own tractor. That means even trying to check if a code a, say, John Deere 8235 R tractor is throwing means a huge issue or just a filter at the end of its cycle.

Forcing the “owner” to have only an authorized John Deere representative look at equipment can cost a farmer serious time and money.

It’s bullshit, and farmers are currently lobbying for the right to work on their own machines. Nebraska’s Fair Repair bill (LB1072) was rejected last year by the state’s senate, but is now being studied by the Agriculture Committee.

Other states, like New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts have similar right-to-repair bills they’re attempting to pass as well.

As gearheads who value the ability to really own the machines we own, to work and tinker as we see fit, we owe it to our oily-handed brothers and sisters in agriculture to support them as well. We’ve already proven that rational exemptions to the DMCA are possible, and it’s time that these rules apply to combines as well as convertibles.