The article deals with modern high-end tractors being totally reliant on the retail-repair lockdowns implemented over internal computer systems. The tractor the author went out to work on had a bad sensor and the internal computer stopped the tractor from being of any use - even though the sensor isn't necessary. Think of it like an inkjet printer getting nasty about low ink or an Audi car being not only impossible to maintain at home, but exorbitantly expensive and slow to get repaired at all. Not much smaller equipment has computerized functions, and sensor drones won't be as sensitive to this problem.
Manufacturers have every legal right to put a password or an encryption over the tECU. Owners, on the other hand, don’t have the legal right to break the digital lock over their own equipment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act—a 1998 copyright law designed to prevent digital piracy—classifies breaking a technological protection measure over a device’s programming as a breach of copyright. So, it’s entirely possible that changing the engine timing on his own tractor makes a farmer a criminal.
Even if he could, would it be legal for Dave to fix his machine? Right now, we don’t know; and that ambiguity is disturbing. So, we’re trying to find the answer. In conjunction with USC and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we’ve asked for a DMCA exemption for farmers who want to modify and repair their equipment. We’ll find out if it’s legal for farmers to tinker with their own equipment when the Copyright Office reviews the latest round of exemptions.
I doubt this affects most Permies, but would be important if John Deere ever tried to branch out into our market. Nothing unfixable is really useful. To that effect, some market news:
The cost and hassle of repairing modern tractors has soured a lot of farmers on computerized systems altogether. In a September issue of Farm Journal, farm auction expert Greg Peterson noted that demand for newer tractors was falling. Tellingly, the price of and demand for older tractors (without all the digital bells and whistles) has picked up. “As for the simplicity, you’ve all heard the chatter,” Machinery Pete wrote. “There’s an increasing number of farmers placing greater value on acquiring older simpler machines that don’t require a computer to fix.”
The article lists some organizations, websites, and publications for farm "hacking."
But, there, at the end is a not saying today is the final day for comment on this issue.
Want to speak out in support of this DMCA exemption? Tell the Copyright Office that farmers should be able to repair and modify their own machinery. You’ve got until February 6 to make your voice heard.