John Deere restrictive practices hinder maintenance for Farmers

Published on 
April 4, 2016
Martin Thompson
John Deere restrictive practices hinder maintenance for Farmers

John Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In spectacular display of market manipulation, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker- told the US Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Computer code is so embedded within modern tractors; farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”  It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it. Or in modern software parlance ; “Tractor as a service”.

We live in a digital age, and even the physical goods we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred. Due to the restrictive practices of manufacturers such as John Deere, farmers are now depending on the external service capabilities of original suppliers, with mechanics to be flown in at, high costs while equipment is left unavailable for days.  As opposed to, for example, fixing the tractor using a tractor mechanic in the same town.


Once we buy an object — software is also an object — we should own it. We should be able to open it, to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it or have it maintained by a third party of our choice … without asking for permission from the manufacturer.

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the Copyright Law to argue that buyers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computer equipment, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors.

Product makers don’t like other people messing with their stuff, so some manufacturers place digital locks over software. Breaking the lock, making the copy, and changing something to match your needs could be construed as a violation of copyright law.

And that’s how manufacturers turn tinkerers into “pirates”— even if said “pirates” aren’t circulating illegal copies of anything.

John Deere may be out of touch, but it’s not alone. Other corporations, including trade groups representing and nearly every major automaker.  It’s worth noting Tesla Motors didn’t join automakers in this argument, even though its cars rely heavily on proprietary software.

Owners need access to repair information, replacement parts, apply security updates, maximum control to make required adjustments and freedom to decide who touches their equipment for maintenance and repair.

Free ICT Europe exists to support the owners of all ICT equipment. So let us step up to make it clear in the industry that we need a change from owner controlled ICT.

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