22 March 2017

Our IP System in One Profoundly Dysfunctional Nutshell

It turns out that American farmers are being forced to use software from Ukrainian hackers to repair their own tractors:
To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America's heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that's cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform "unauthorized" repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time.

"When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don't have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it," Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. "Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix]."

The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn't be anything a farmer could do about 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." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors.

"If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it," Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me. "You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part."

"What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market," he added.
The affection we have in our society for rent seeking through things like the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), and it serves no one but parasites.

In fact, it creates a society based on this parasitism, which crowds out productive activities, and leads to inequality,

We have created a society of Martin Shkrelis, and this is not a good way to be.

2 comments :

Lucia Fiero said...

Spoken like a true Pirate! Why aren't you in the Pirate Party?

Matthew Saroff said...

I am not a member of an organized party, I am a Democrat.

(Though it seems that the leaders in DC are determined to make me something else.)

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