John Deere: of course you "own" your tractor, but only if you agree to let us rip you off


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I wonder what the word “hack” is intended to mean in this context. It’s not a legal term, and it has several wildly different meanings. If they meant “improve its performance on a low budget”, then they could have said that. If they meant “bad script kiddies who will steal all our secrets of engine timing”, then they could have said that.


They seem eager to explain that they want to maintain control over their code, but they seem to hand-wave away the idea that somebody might simply replace their code. One need not necessarily copy, crack, or reverse-engineer software if they prefer to run something else.


I buy it, I own it.

Whoever doesn’t like it can discuss it with the hot end of my soldering iron.


I buy it, I own it

True. But in this case, what you have bought is thousands of pounds of machinery and a license for the bundled software.


Keurig may still be the poster child for DMCA evil. They aren’t dropping DRM, just bringing back the refillable pod.

The software is physically represented as direction of magnetized domains in a storage medium, or as the amount of charge carriers injected in floating gates of memory arrays.

Do you mean I do not have right to remagnetize parts of my disks, or to tamper with my own memory cells?

The claim stays.


“There is no question that Deere customers own the equipment that they purchase.”

Well, that clears it right up for me. The word “own”, in my world, means that I can set fire to the damn thing if that’s what puts my pinky finger in the air. The rest of the letter is just decoration.


I have know a few farmers over the years, and they were smart independent business owners. I do not expect they would be fooled. Also, they compare notes.


Did they write in their letter that someone who buys a book is not allowed to modify that book?

What a lie!
If I want to cross out certain paragraphs or add my own ending, there is no law that says that I can’t do that!

Is there?


This is currently mostly true(and even where it isn’t, it’s stuff like ‘reflash backup copy of ROM to replacement for fried ROM, which is hardly outside the reasonable scope of ‘repair’); but the pernicious thing is that, unless the copyright office does smack them down (presumably along the lines of Lexmark vs. Static Control Components’ line of reasoning) that will create a substantial incentive to make it so that fixing the engine does require doing things that run into copyright problems, precisely to create a new ‘right’ that they never enjoyed in the past.

With embedded computers in everything, and a few tamper-detection mechanisms, only not being an awful person prevents you from making access to copyrighted firmware a practical necessity for repairs, and interaction with adversarial firmware hellbent on verifying your ‘authenticity’ a necessity for 3rd party parts.

Thanks to the wonders of Hollywood, digital theatre projection systems already do a ‘freak out and blank all the secrets!!’ routine if a user without the correct authentication even attempts to open the cabinet(the relevant part of the projector even has to be FIPS-140 certified to meet spec.) You could do the same for an engine housing, if you were a real dick; and adding a smartcard-style crypto chip to a part wouldn’t add much to the BOM…

All these sorts of additions would be artificial, in that a non-malicious entity could avoid entangling copyright in the matter; but if given the incentive that ‘anything tainted by copyright gives you veto power!’, you better believe that a lot of previously routine operations will grow steps that require interacting with copyright.


I am trying to understand their reasoning by comparing the software that controls a modern tractor engine to the mechanical systems that used to control the same tractor engine. I’ll assume a Diesel engine.

The mechanical governor kept the engine from over-revving. This could be disabled by the owner of the tractor by fiddling with the mechanism. Doing so might be foolish, but not illegal.

The engine performance could be modified by changing the fuel injection timing, typically a mechanical pump. This may also be foolish, but doable and legal.

Beyond that, what is there to the engine control software?


You have explained well the FUNDAMENTAL problem with DMCA…Because if forbids circumvention even for legal and unactionable uses, it has the potential to greatly limit the rights that the “owner” of an object has. Rights that she NEVER signed a contract relinquishing and had a reasonable expectation to believe were part of the purchase price.

Conceptually, under DMCA IKEA could put tamper evident tape over most of the holes for the shelfpins in a Billy bookcase and then tell you (after you got it home and assembled it) that you have to pay a special fee if you want ADJUSTABLE shelves.


Since when do I not have the right to modify a book? I can’t make copies or distribute copies, but I can damn sure modify the hell out of it. I can’t tell if they’re stupid or just expecting people to gloss over it, but this flaw in their logic is the crux of everything they don’t understand about the problem here.


Modern ECUs take many variables like air flow, engine speed, throttle position, temperature(s), exhaust gasses, etc and combine that data to figure out the best combination of power and efficiency and emissions. I could see someone arguing that these “maps” are copyrighted information or industry secrets. I could just as easily see someone saying that it’s just math and shouldn’t be under any protection.


Maybe, when you “buy” an ebook.

The software is physically represented as direction of magnetized domains in a storage medium, or as the amount of charge carriers injected in floating gates of memory arrays.

It’s simpler than that. Take all the bits of the software and line them up. The software is just a very big number.

If you object to what John Deere is doing, then you object to intellectual property in general. I have no problem with that, but what John Deere is doing isn’t somehow special or strange.

I’ve seen this with mining equipment. OEM on-board diagnostics collect a huge amount (number?) of data, but without signing on for the manufacturer’s analysis package and hefty annual fees, the data is locked from third-party access. This gets hacked after each security upgrade by (smaller) firms who offer competing analysis and maintenance planning services, and who seek to appeal to the cost-saving motivation of the equipment owners. I guess it will eventually end up in court, if it hasn’t already.


Tractors are more complicated still than autos.

There’s a decent discussion over at /. along with more details in TFA:

This really hits the nail on the head as to why I’m baffled John Deere of all companies is pulling this crap. Surely they know their customer base: people who are resourceful, inventive, and fearless tinkerers. Pure speculation on my part, but I’m thinking this has to be the result of a big gap between the legal side of the company and everyone else.