If your harvest (or seeding or spraying) has ever been shut down because of a piece of equipment throwing an error code, you probably need to know about the building concern over right-to-repair rules and regulations.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a growing rumble out of the U.S. pitting farmers against equipment manufacturers in a battle that begs the question, who owns your tractor?
How did we get here? To summarize a rather complicated topic, farmers in the U.S., faced with more complicated, electronically-dependent equipment, are pushing for more access to farm equipment software and diagnostics in an effort to repair their own machines. Frustrated by being dependent on dealers and technicians to clear codes or re-set electronics, farmers are demanding access to source code that runs the machines they have paid for dearly. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, and the National Farmers Union are pushing for farm equipment to be exempt from certain aspects of copyright laws.
The ask is being met by pushback from the farm equipment giants. In an argument similar to the one made by tech giant Apple and others, they are saying that you can wrench on the metal, but the software that runs the equipment is not yours.
The clash between “owner” and developer has led to close to 20 states moving “right to repair” legislation through their governments — as you can imagine, farmers being told they may not fix their own equipment has not gone over well. The good news is they are finding an ally in the urbanite ticked off about not being able to repair their beloved smartphone.
The issue of ownership gets even more murky when you wade into documents filed in the U.S. copyright office. In an effort to protect its intellectual property under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, John Deere has gone so far as to say that buying its tractors doesn’t actually mean owning its tractors — they’ve simply granted you an “implied license” (a direct quote) to operate the hunk of metal surrounding all its software. Let that sink in.
Most of the right to repair action is centered at California. And, as California goes, so goes the nation, in all things agricultural. Earlier this month, the California Farm Bureau Federation and Far West Equipment Dealers reached an agreement, which is being touted as a right to repair agreement.
In the agreement, equipment dealers commit to providing maintenance, diagnostic and repair information that is not already available for tractors and combines being put into service after Jan. 1, 2021. However, the agreement still restricts access to source code for proprietary software, and restricts changes that would impact emissions or safety.
But, that last point is already covered under environmental law — so it’s a moot point. The source code, however, is what right to repair is all about. This agreement is hardly a win for farmers and the right to repair movement.
What happens next? California’s right to repair legislation did not move forward, however, there are several more bills moving through the U.S. system. And, as the U.S. goes, so does Canada — for the most part — so we shall see.
Hear Shaun Haney and Lyndsey Smith discuss the right to repair issue in the U.S., featured on the September 26, 2018, edition of RealAg Radio: