Farmers Unable to Repair Tractors Because Copyright: Never a Side Effect, But Core Intention of Law
Stories are starting to appear about farmers unable to repair tractors and car aficionados unable to tinker with cars because of copyright legislation. That's not a side effect. It was the whole idea of the law.
This week, there have been stories about farmers who can’t legally repair their John Deere tractors, as copyright monopoly legislation prohibits tampering with computer code in something you own. This has been described as an “unexpected side effect” of the copyright monopoly legislation in general and the DMCA/EUCD in particular.
That’s wrong. It’s not a side effect and it’s not unexpected. That is exactly what those laws intended to accomplish. Being locked out of your own possessions is not a side effect – it was the central point of the legislation and its core purpose.
As usual, the geeks who understood the deeper repercussions of this cried murder over the legislation at the time, and were summarily ignored by policymakers. Perhaps only now, when it becomes clear that it’s not just geek toys that are affected but everything in our everyday life, will more people become aware of how the copyright monopoly limits property rights.
This development, eroding property rights of everything, has been driven by the cartoon industry – by which I mean the copyright industry in general and Disney Corporation in particular.
It started with DRM, Digital Restriction Measures. Somebody thought it was both possible and a good idea to control how playback of video and audio could take place at people’s homes after they bought music and movies. (Imagine that translated to books, by the way, that publishers thought it possible to control how a book would be read – where, when and how.)
Digital Restriction Measures (DRM) were never about preventing copying, even though they were frequently presented as “copy protection”, mostly for PR purposes. They did absolutely nothing to prevent copying. They prevented playback. They controlled playback. They permitted or didn’t permit playback.
However, the technology didn’t work. The technology couldn’t work. It wasn’t broken at the technical level, or needed a little bit of improvement: it was broken at the conceptual level. It relied on the cartoon industry’s ability to prevent the owner of an object to tinker with their own property. (This is where tractors and cars come in.)
Obviously, if a computer is able to decode and decrypt a cartoon, then the owner of that computer is also able to instruct their own computer computer to decode and decrypt it (presumably a copy they bought and therefore also own), even against the cartoon industry’s desire for that possibility.
This is why DRM is broken at the conceptual level.
In this respect, there is no difference between a copy of a car or tractor – one of many identical sold objects off a production line – and a CD or DVD. You hold the receipt, you own it. The manufacturer doesn’t get to say what you do with your own property.
Or didn’t, at least.
The cartoon industry – copyright industry – realized that they needed to attack the core concept of the ability to hold property in order to prop up their crumbling copyright monopoly, and pushed for legislation that turned out as something called the DMCA in the US and the EUCD/InfoSoc in Europe. It “fixes” the conceptual problem with DRM by simply making it illegal to tinker with your own property when the original manufacturer, who sold the object to you, doesn’t want it tinkered with even after it’s been sold to you.
Yes, that’s a blatant intrusion into the very core concept of property rights. It also illustrates how the copyright monopoly, a governmentally-granted private monopoly, was always firmly in opposition to property rights (despite the copyright industry’s insistent attempts to reframe it as “property” for PR purposes, which is one of many lies from that cartoon industry).
As computers are spreading through society, into every aspect of our lives, so are the effects of the law that the copyright industry rammed through legislative corridors fifteen years ago.
John Deere claiming that farmers aren’t allowed to tinker with their tractors and other farming equipment is not an “unfortunate side effect” of copyright monopoly legislation. It was the core idea, all the time, to prevent owners of property to exercise their normal property rights. That was the only possible way the copyright monopoly was even slightly maintainable into a digital environment.
One has to ask whether it was, and continue to be, worth that price.