Editor’s Note: On Feb. 5, Wired magazine published an article by Kyle Wiens titled "New High-Tech Farm Equipment is a Nightmare for Farmers." It spurred a follow-up in Wired again last week (April 21), in which Wiens centered on John Deere and the OEM's claim of "who" actually owns the tractor on the farm in his op-ed piece "We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership." Below are the first few paragraphs from Wiens' piece.
“It’s official: 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 a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere — the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker — told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of 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.
"Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.
"Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.
"This is an important issue for farmers: a neighbor, Kerry Adams, hasn’t been able to fix an expensive transplanter because he doesn’t have access to the diagnostic software he needs. He’s not alone: many farmers are opting for older, computer-free equipment."
To see Wiens’ full commentary and observations, along with what is being done to stop the movement, read the complete article here.
Update: A spokesperson for John Deere refuted Wiens' claims. Berry Nelson, Deere's media relations director, told Brownfield Ag News that if a farmer buys a tractor from John Deere, they own it.
Nelson explained the issue is with the equipment's computer software, which is protected for safety, emissions standards and overall performance.
"We don't want just anybody to be able to go in there and hack the computer code," he said.
He used the analogy of buying a book — a person can own it, but does not have the right to copy it, modify it or distribute copies of it to others.