USC’s IP Clinic successfully petitioned the Library of Congress to grant an exemption allowing farmers to fix their tractors without fear of legal repercussions. You read that correctly: prior to the rule issued today farmers were unable to repair their own agricultural machinery, including tractors, transplanters, manure spreaders and diesel hauler trucks. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was enacted by Congress to prohibit the circumvention of technological measures employed by copyright owners to protect access to their work. Manufacturers of agricultural machinery rely on the DMCA to employ technological protective measures such as proprietary software, passwords and memory modification to to prevent farmers from obtaining access necessary to diagnose, repair and modify farm equipment.
The Clinic’s petition explained that the restricted access places the livelihood of farmers at risk, because they must often wait significant periods of time before their disabled vehicles can be repaired by a technician authorized by the manufacturers, and that those delays can lead to problems with time-sensitive crops or planting. The Register of Copyrights agreed, concluding “owners of … agricultural machinery are adversely impacted as a result of [the technological protective measures] that protect the copyrighted computer programs on the [electronic control units] that control the functioning of their vehicles.”
Based on the Register’s recommendation, adopted the new exemption will become operative twelve months from today. (Query whether there is statutory authority to delay the implementation… a conversation for another day!)
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