Machinery repairs – so, just who owns the machine?

This one may well resonate with some of our readers. The days of home tractor repair are coming to an end with machinery technology and tightening intellectual property restrictions meaning farmers are forced to pay big bucks to fix their machinery. When Nebraska farmer Tom Schwarz bought a tractor he did not realise he would be bound to his John Deere dealer who holds onto intellectual property rights to fix it.

"When you paid the money for a tractor, you didn't actually buy the tractor … because all of the intellectual property is still theirs," Mr Schwartz told tech journalist Jason Koebler in a recent documentary.

"You just buy the right to use it … for life." Farmers and independent machinery repairers across the United States are now campaigning for the right to fix their own machinery. Mr Schwartz had always bought second-hand parts to keep his machinery going, but is now forced to call a dealer because of its software.

"We will put components on tractors. As farmers we don't like to spend a lot of money so we buy used components if we can," he said. It used to be we'd mount them ourselves and we'd utilise the tractor from that point on.

"Now we can't get the component and the tractor to talk to each other. So, you literally have to bring Deere out to do all this or your tractor is not going to operate." In Nebraska, a "fair repair" law is being proposed to allow farmers to repair their own tractor. If successful, the Right to Repair Act would make it mandatory for companies to disclose their diagnostic software and sell parts.

Journalist Jason Koebler told the ABC that farmers are using software downloaded from Ukraine to avoid the onerous restrictions. "Farmers are hacking their own tractors. In places like Ukraine and Eastern Europe the software is sold to farmers without the encryption they have in other countries like the United States," he said.

"So what people in Ukraine are doing is uploading these versions of the software for free online, and people in Nebraska are pirating it and hacking their tractors with it. "They're essentially able to have access to the same technology the John Deere dealerships have in order to fix their things."

The risk for these farmers is that they will break their warranty. Mr Koebler said the fair repair issue extends beyond machinery companies, with firms like Apple and Microsoft taking interest in the Nebraska case. "It's also your iPhone. Apple doesn't sell parts to your iPhone," he said.

Source: ABC Rural

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