Hobbled by DMCA, Farmers are jail breaking Tractors | Motherboard

Farmers in the U.S. are turning to modified firmware from third parties to “jail break” tractors and other heavy equipment: allowing the equipment owners to diagnose problems and repair equipment without approval from the manufacturer.

In-brief: Hobbled by draconian copyright restrictions from manufacturers like John Deere that make it impossible to modify or repair equipment, farmers in the U.S. have turned to unofficial software produced in countries like Ukraine to maintain their equipment. 

Security Ledger has noted some of the developments in the U.S. around the (nascent) “right to repair movement,” as states attempt to curtail draconian content controls that use the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prohibit device owners from modifying or repairing software-based products. Those restrictions have been felt especially hard on the farm, where vendors like John Deere now require farmers to sign lengthy and comprehensive end user license agreements that forbid equipment owners from nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, while granting the manufacturer broad immunity from losses resulting from the use (or lack of use) of the equipment resulting from software related errors.


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The result? U.S. Farmers are going to the (cyber) underground: paying for versions of John Deere’s diagnostic software and other management tools that have been stripped of the copyright controls. The trade is an end run around the company’s rights management features. That, according to a new report by Motherboard’s Jason Koebler, who has looked into the thriving trade in jailbroken farm equipment, which is not clearly illegal.

From the article:

On its face, pirating such software would seem to be illegal. But in 2015, the Librarian of Congress approved an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for land vehicles, which includes tractors. The exemption allows modification of “computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial motor vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle … when circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorized owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair, or lawful modification of a vehicle function.”This means modification of embedded software is legal long as it can still meet emission requirements. Whether the exemption allows for the downloading of cracked software is an unanswered question.

Source: Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware – Motherboard