The internet of things is awash with proprietary hurdles and licensing issues. Controlling the spread of information, preventing rival companies from accessing code or merely trying to create a cabalistic support system of ‘authorised’ and unauthorised repairs. John Deere are emblematic of the new problem of proprietary products. Hacking tractors with keygens from Eastern Europe is the new normal in parts of the United States.
‘Tractor hacking’ has grown in popularity throughout the American farmlands due to the prohibitive restrictions place on their new machine by manufacturers. John Deere is really only leasing you the tractor when they alone are able to fix the machine. Cutting off farmers from their equipment like this is sacrilege.
Licensing agreements, the type you skim as quickly as your mouse can move, contain clauses forbidding any modification or repair of equipment. John Deere required farmers to sign an agreement in October which prevents farmers sueing over crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment” when “arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software”.
Expecting an available, certified John Deere mechanic in the time frame of a farming breakdown is idiotic. Preventing legal action for this nonsense is psychopathic. John Deere are trying to hold farmers hostage, fortunately many bypassing the illegitamate process and selling access online. Cracked software from Poland and Ukraine then makes its way into the United States. With foreign hacking this time essential to keeping the country moving.
Despite license agreements, the companies forcing proprietary repairs may not have the law on their side. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act had an exemption proved in 2015, covering tractors and other vehicles over any illicit examinations they might need to “allow for the diagnosis, repair, or lawful modification of a vehicle function“.
John Deere pushed customers to sign agreements around the time the exemption took effect. Critics have called John Deere’s position as “total crap” and intend to fight for the right to repair. Farmers are rightly concerned about firmware upgrades. How much backwards compatibility can they expect in 20 years? Will they be forced into buying ever newer pieces of equipment sooner than previously expected?