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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware (vice.com)

Tractor owners across the country are reportedly hacking their John Deere tractors using firmware that's cracked in Easter Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

The reason is because John Deere and other manufacturers have "made it impossible to perform 'unauthorized' repair on farm equipment," which has obviously upset many farmers who see it "as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time," reports Jason Koebler via Motherboard.

 As is the case with most modern-day engineering vehicles, the mechanical problems experienced with the newer farming tractors are often remedied via software.

From the report: The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn't be anything a farmer could do about it.

 A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment [...] arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." 

The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. 

It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors.

 "If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it," Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me.

 "You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic -- he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. 

Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part." 

"What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market," he added. 


Kind of like itunes music.

You think your buying music but you don't actually own your copy of the music.

When agreeing to download songs on the iTunes Store, users are paying for the license to listen to the song on an Apple device; they are not purchasing the song itself.

 Apple is not the only digital distributor that restricts users from limitless sharing or transferring of legal downloads. Amazon and Google Play have similar jargon in their terms and conditions.

Clinging to the industry of distribution, record labels devised these terms in the digital era to ensure that future generations would pay for new formats.


 A corporate squabble over printer toner cartridges doesn't sound particularly glamorous, and the phrase "patent exhaustion" is probably already causing your eyes to glaze over. 

However, these otherwise boring topics are the crux of a Supreme Court case that will answer a question with far-reaching impact for all consumers

Can a company that sold you something use its patent on that product to control how you choose to use after you buy it? The case in question is Impression Products, Inc v Lexmark International, Inc, came before the nation's highest court on Tuesday.

 Here's the background: Lexmark makes printers. Printers need toner in order to print, and Lexmark also happens to sell toner. Then there's Impression Products, a third-party company makes and refills toner cartridges for use in printers, including Lexmark's. Lexmark, however, doesn't want that; if you use third-party toner cartridges, that's money that Lexmark doesn't make.

 So it sued, which brings us to the legal chain that ended up at the Supreme Court. In an effort to keep others from getting a piece of that sweet toner revenue, Lexmark turned to its patents: 

The company began selling printer cartridges with a notice on the package forbidding reuse or transfer to third parties. Then, when a third-party -- like Impression -- came around reselling or recycling the cartridges, Lexmark could accuse them of patent infringement. So far the courts have sided with Lexmark, ruling that Impression was using Lexmark's patented technology in an unauthorized way. 

The Supreme Court is Impression's last avenue of appeal. 

The question before the Supreme Court isn't one of "can Lexmark patent this?" Because Lexmark can, and has. The question is, rather: Can patent exhaustion still be a thing, or does the original manufacturer get to keep having the final say in what you and others can do with the product?

Kate Cox notes via Consumerist that the Supreme Court ruling is still likely months away. However, she has provided a link to the transcript of this week's oral arguments (PDF) in her report and has dissected it to see which way the justices are leaning on the issue.


Patents Are A Big Part Of Why We Can't Own Nice Things (eff.or

Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could allow companies to keep a dead hand of control over their products, even after you buy them. The case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, is on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who last year affirmed its own precedent allowing patent holders to restrict how consumers can use the products they buy. 

That decision, and the precedent it relied on, departs from long established legal rules that safeguard consumers and enable innovation. When you buy something physical -- a toaster, a book, or a printer, for example -- you expect to be free to use it as you see fit: 

to adapt it to suit your needs, fix it when it breaks, re-use it, lend it, sell it, or give it away when you're done with it.

  Your freedom to do those things is a necessary aspect of your ownership of those objects.

 If you can't do them, because the seller or manufacturer has imposed restrictions or limitations on your use of the product, then you don't really own them. Traditionally, the law safeguards these freedoms by discouraging sellers from imposing certain conditions or restrictions on the sale of goods and property, and limiting the circumstances in which those restrictions may be imposed by contract.


 But some companies are relentless in their quest to circumvent and undermine these protections. 

They want to control what end users of their products can do with the stuff they ostensibly own, by attaching restrictions and conditions on purchasers, locking down their products, and locking you (along with competitors and researchers) out. 

 If they can do that through patent law, rather than ordinary contract, it would mean they could evade legal limits on contracts, and that any one using a product in violation of those restrictions (whether a consumer or competitor) could face harsh penalties for patent infringement.

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