You may recall that there’s been a lot of effort on the part of big companies—carmakers, agricultural equipment makers, consumer electronics companies, and more—to make it not just difficult, but actually illegal for owners to repair or modify products they bought and own. We’ve thought that’s bullshit for some time, and while there’s been a temporary right-to-repair law for cars in place, so far there’s been no proposal for a real, national right-to-repair law. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has just proposed one, though it’s limited in scope to agricultural equipment. Still, it’s a start.
The reason the farmers are getting their right to repair and modify their machines first is that they’ve arguably been the biggest victims of corporate overreach when it comes to what they can and can’t do to the machines they own and rely on.
John Deere is one of the worst offenders here, and has attempted to re-define ownership of a tractor as
“... the vehicle owner receives an implied license for the life of the vehicle, subject to any warranty limitations, disclaimers, or contractual limitations...”
...which really is more of a license than actual ownership, something that would be news to farmers who believed they were buying tractors. Look, you buy a tractor, it’s your tractor. There’s no weaselly “implied license” unless somehow that was explicitly stated at the time of purchase, which it was not.
Warren’s right-to-repair law is part of a larger plan to support family farms, but the key part that could possibly affect the greater gearhead community boils down to this, as Warren explains in a post on Medium:
“For example, many farmers are forced to rely on authorized agents to repair their equipment. Companies have built diagnostic software into the equipment that prevents repairs without a code from an authorized agent. That leads to higher prices and costly delays.
That’s ridiculous. Farmers should be able to repair their own equipment or choose between multiple repair shops. That’s why I strongly support a national right-to-repair law that empowers farmers to repair their equipment without going to an authorized agent. The national right-to-repair law should require manufacturers of farm equipment to make diagnostic tools, manuals, and other repair-related resources available to any individual or business, not just their own dealerships and authorized agents. This will not only allow individuals to fix their own equipment — reducing delays — but it will also create competition among dealers and independent repair shops, bringing down prices overall.”
Again, unless you daily a tractor that you occasionally take to autocross events, this likely doesn’t apply directly to you, but such a law would set a very good precedent for the eventual passing of a more global right-to-repair law that would protect car owners who want to fix or modify the cars they own, and would keep carmakers from claiming that the software on those cars remains untouchable and unmodifiable because of overly-powerful copyright laws.
This law would be a step in the right direction for protecting the right of gearheads to tinker, repair, and modify, and hopefully follow-up laws to expand the scope beyond combines and tractors will be forthcoming.
The proposed law would represent a change in strategy for the right-to-repair movement, which has so far been more focused on getting state laws passed rather than one national law. I guess we’ll see what happens.