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article imageOp-Ed: Library of Congress buries DRM obstructions to repair

By Paul Wallis     Oct 27, 2018 in Business
Washington - The recent catfight over the right to repair has boiled down to whether consumers can hack devices subject to Digital Rights Management (DRM) for the purpose of repair. Now the Library of Congress has ruled it’s OK.
Just as well. This is strange law incarnate, and it needed fixing. In the murderous world of copyright law, protection of ownership rights is basic. The right to repair movement has been fighting hard to get rights to deal with faulty software and similar dysfunctions. The new ruling will come as a relief to consumers and users, but may not sit too well with the very territorial legal hawks. The theory of not being able to repair, however, includes some downright bizarre mindsets.
The Library of Congress ruling means exemption from copyright laws for the purpose of repair of DRM managed software.
Consider for a moment:
Why should there be any obstacle to necessary repairs? The new exemptions cover:
“the maintenance of a device or system … in order to make it work in accordance with its original specifications” and/or “the repair of a device or system … to a state of working in accordance with its original specifications.”
Note the use of “original specifications” as a working term, because working properly is exactly what these copyright issues are all about. Can you copyright a fault in your own intellectual property (IP)? No, of course not. How do you copyright a liability to your own IP? How does that work, and why should it?
To explain:
The basic legal theory is that a device is supposed to be operational and fit for purpose, i.e. original specifications. Repair, by definition, involves making something work. That said, NOT being able to repair is a virtual contradiction of a basic working necessity, and the very reasonable expectation that you have the right to repair.
Imagine having to get a OK from the manufacturer to repair a car. The courts and the therapy centers would be clogged for decades within a week. It makes no sense whatsoever to obstruct repairs of anything.
There’s another issue, less obvious, but becoming highly intrusive even at consumer level. The creeping paralysis of proprietary rights over basic functionality isn’t necessary for many things, and can be expensive. It’s a money grab, and a very unsubtle money grab.
(Far be it from me to say that it’s also a great way of copyright hacks trying to justify their existence. I didn’t say that, OK? Nor did I say that mindless, penny-pinching, customer-infuriating pedantry is good for business, for some reason.)
Do rights owners also own faults?
It’s understandable that IP owners want some degree of protection and remuneration for their properties. The question is at what point does that claim for rights stop?
A fault is a fault. They don’t actually own the fault or intend to be a party to the fault. The fault may not be their doing, but they still want a piece of it? They do own the part of the cause of the fault that needs to be repaired. Are they admitting or claiming liability for that? I doubt it. The odd thing is that they may be doing exactly that, if they’re claiming to “own” the faults, as well as the IP.
If you’re thinking this logic makes very little, if any sense, that’s exactly the point of the Right To Repair. The Fed move is good, and necessary. Let’s hope some common sense will become the norm, not some epic territorial fight, in future.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Digital rights management, Drm, US copyright law, right to repair, Library of Congress ruling right to repair 2018
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