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article imageExemptions to U.S. copyright law allows self repair of devices

By Ken Hanly     Oct 25, 2018 in Technology
In a huge win for hackers, tinkerers, and the right to repair movement, the US copyright office has made several major changes to legal exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
The legal exemptions make it now much easier for owners of devices to hack, modify, and repair them.
Wikipedia describes DMCA:
the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a 1998 United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM). It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet.[1][2] Passed on October 12, 1998, by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of online services for copyright infringement by their users.
Section 1201 of DMCA makes it unlawful to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted works. This includes software that has been ubiquitous and essential in all the devices we use be they phones, cars or even tractors. While you may own the devices you only have a licence to use the software that enables them to function. Device manufactures have long used this section to prevent owners from repairing their own devices or modifying them if it involves breaking software locks. To do so companies argue is illegal and a violation of the DMCA.
However, every three years citizens can petition to allow exemptions to section 1201. The office then rules what kinds of repairs and software tools are and are not allowed under the law. The latest ruling goes into effect on October 28th and offers broad new protections for repairing devices.
Kyle Wiens of ifixit lists the main changes: You can now jailbreak Alexa-powered hardware, and other similar gadgets—they call these ‘Voice assistant devices.’You can unlock new phones, not just used ones. This is important for recyclers that get unopened consumer returns.We got a general exemption for repair of smartphones, home appliances, or home systems. This means that it’s finally legal to root and fix the Revolv smart home hubs that Google bricked when they shut down the servers. Or pretty much any other home device. Repair of motorized land vehicles (including tractors) by modifying the software is now legal. Importantly, this includes access to telematic diagnostic data—which was a major point of contention.It’s now legal for third-parties to perform repair on behalf of the owner. This is hugely important for the American economy, where repair jobs represent 3% of overall employment.Lastly, it’s legal for other third parties to do these kinds of repairs on your behalf — so even if you can’t code your way into fixing a bricked smart home, it’s not illegal to pay someone who can to do it for you.
The self repairers and hackers did not win on every issue. Game console repairs are still not allowed. You cannot repair a busted CD drive on your Xbox or PS4 on your own since for security reasons these parts are locked via software to the specific console.
The ruling also applies only to specific categories so owners of vehicles such as boats or planes still are bound by the law. The ruling also does not allow trafficking in the software tools designed to circumvent software locks even in the name of repair. You can develop those tools yourself or people can pay you to do the repairs for them, but the tools cannot be distributed or sold to others.
The John Deere case
The John Deer situation is discussed in detail in the appended video. John Deere's restrictions prevent software repairs being done except by authorized repairmen. At harvest time when a machine breaks down this creates a tremendous expense for farmers. The machinery may need to shipped long distances at huge expenses or farmers need to spend precious time waiting for an authorized repairmen to come and make repairs. As discussed in a Digital Journal article some time ago farmers are resorting to local repair people who use illegal hacking tools to access and repair the software. The new legislation still does not allow that but it may be difficult to enforce.
Companies had been forcing those who buy their products to get them repaired only by them often garnering huge profits since it gives them in effect a monopoly over repairs. Of course it is not only tractors but a myriad of products that use proprietary software that is only licensed to owners. At least the new legislation allows a huge number of exceptions that will be of great benefit to owners of devices containing such software.
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