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Before I Can Fix This Tractor, We Have To Fix Copyright Law (slate.com) 279

Gr8Apes writes: How many people does it take to fix a tractor? When the repair involves a tractor's computer, it actually takes an army of copyright lawyers, dozens of representatives from U.S. government agencies, an official hearing, hundreds of pages of legal briefs, and nearly a year of waiting. Waiting for the Copyright Office to make a decision about whether people like me can repair, modify, or hack their own stuff. why do people need to ask permission to fix a tractor in the first place? It's required under the anti-circumvention section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Even unlocking your cellphone required an act of Congress to make it legal.
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Before I Can Fix This Tractor, We Have To Fix Copyright Law

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  • So it's broken? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @08:39AM (#51328205)

    So copyright law is broken? How is this news?

    • DMCA is the new Feudalism.
    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      What's news is that more of the general public has a chance to learn how the brokenness of copyright law affects them.

    • The news is that it now affects Joe Randomfarmer and not Joe Randomsurfer.

      You know, the guy who said "Why should I give a shit about you having a problem, it ain't mine" when we first complained about the DMCA.

  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @08:40AM (#51328207)

    Maybe parts of it, but other parts you've only acquired a license to use. They didn't go over that at the tractor store?

    That's life in the new America. You probably didn't feel the slide down the slippery slope.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      It's the new communism and the Rs and the Ds are in full support..

  • Simple fix (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @08:42AM (#51328215)

    Don't buy "Made in the USA". It applies to much more than tractors.

    • Re:Simple fix (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:25AM (#51328381) Homepage

      Truth.

      I can do more with BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Mazda than I can with GM/Ford/Chrysler with just my laptop and a cheap china ODB to USB adapter. In fact a BMW is easier for a driveway mechanic to work on because I can easily ask it what is wrong. go ahead and query the transfer case module as to it's status on a GM or activate the calibration function.... Oh wait you cant.

      All because GM works like hell to protect the revenue stream of its dealerships. so that $60 30 minute fluid change becomes $700 at a 1100% profit.

      • Re:Simple fix (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:59AM (#51328537)

        Dodge/Chrysler and the "60,000 mile change interval" fluid in their CVTs - originally single sourced from them at $80/qt, with 6 qts required for a change.

        By the time those POS cars are at 120Kmi, they're barely worth $1500 on the open market, and they've got a planned maintenance that required $500 "worth" of fluid?!? - luckily, some 3rd party sources are showing up (and "only" charging $73 for a case of fluid) and in response the dealers have come down from $80 to anywhere from $28 to $18 per qt, depending... , but, seriously, at what point do we have to ask our legislators to step in and call BS on this kind of stuff? Fluids are one thing, it's pretty easy to call monopoly on that, but DMCA is a kind of monopoly protection that apparently has escaped the notice of anyone in power who might care.

        • by karnal ( 22275 )

          I have a similar vehicle (Ford) built in 2004 that will not be getting a transmission flush or change of any sort. And I'm usually pretty good at maintenance. Why? The value of the car is such crap right now that it's worth more to me to just run it into the ground than to change the fluid out. (early CVTs were somewhat notorious for being garbage and maintenance or no, once they go it's 5-7k from a dealer.) No thanks, off to the junkyard if it ever conks out, and I'm not going to spend a dime on the t

          • Re:Simple fix (Score:4, Interesting)

            by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @11:13AM (#51329127)

            The actual manufacturer of the CVT doesn't recommend fluid changes, except "as needed", which may be never. It's just the Chrysler factory service manual that says "60,000 miles" which I think is borderline criminal - putting something like that in writing when the actual designer and maker of the component clearly states otherwise.

        • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

          , but, seriously, at what point do we have to ask our legislators to step in and call BS on this kind of stuff?

          What exactly would you ask a legislator to do? How is the DMCA relevant to transmission fluid?

          It seems like the free market is already solving this problem. One solution you listed was starting a company that makes and sells the fluid cheaper. Another, that you indirectly mentioned already, is to reduce the car's value by $500. Another is to buy a car that doesn't have this expensive lubrication cost.

        • by PRMan ( 959735 )
          And this is why you don't buy Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge.
        • and in response the dealers have come down from $80 to anywhere from $28 to $18 per qt, depending...

          ...or back up to $100 per if you're a single woman.

          The only institutions nearly as misogynistic as religion are car dealerships and auto mechanics.

          • They tried to do that to my mom when she took my truck into the dealer for maintenance. They wanted to replace the cabin air, engine air ... for $100 a piece. I explained to her that I had reusable filters, and to not have it done.

      • by NetNed ( 955141 )
        Just about every car on the market you can pull info from it's ODB port via laptop if you have the right software. Lots of Ford engines are Mazda engines. The Mustang used to be built on the same lines as a Mazda. Are you working on pre 2007 BMW? That's might be easier with the tools you have because it might not be ODB II and it might not be CAN compatible. If the ODB to USB cord doesn't support that, then that might be part of your issues. I have never seen one easier then another as long as you are using
  • by mlts ( 1038732 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @08:45AM (#51328231)

    I'm sort of reminded of the early 1990s, pre-Linux, where if one wanted an OS to run on their computer, be it a UNIX flavor, DOS, or OS/2, it cost, and wasn't cheap. It makes me wonder if there would be a niche for a company that produced farm equipment to charge a tad more, as they are not using the cheapest stuff from China, but circuits would be diagrammed, parts would be available, and the equipment would be designed from the ground up for serviceability. Unlike phones and tablets where shaving off a few fractions of a millimeter is critical, a 1950s-era tractor does the job just as well as a modern one.

    Of course, there is reliability. A closed source, locked-down ECU might allow something to run for a longer time between servicings, at the cost of more expensive upkeep (since parts only come from the maker.) Would customers mind dealing with a more frequent maintenance cycle, in return for the fact that parts would be cheaper and easy to get ahold of 10-20 years from now, or is the mindset of "use it until it breaks, pitch it, replace it, repeat" too firmly ingrained in the mind of consumers?

    It may take some time before this happens. I'm just waiting for "consolization" of cars, where vehicles come with the same engines across the board, but you have to pay license fees to enable the turbos, unlock all horsepower, use the BlueTooth functionality on the audio head... and none of those licenses will transfer with the vehicle, which guarentees that car makers make a significant, tidy sum when a vehicle is sold. Similar with farm equipment. Want to use the PTO? That is a licensed feature and even though the transmission supports it, the TCM won't enable it unless the manufacturer gets $2000 for a license key. Want to use a combine attachment? Another $2000, and it is only good for this harvest season, but you can pay $5000 to have it enabled for five seasons.

    How hot will the water get before the frog jumps out?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That is a licensed feature and even though the transmission supports it, the TCM won't enable it unless the manufacturer gets $2000 for a license key. Want to use a combine attachment?

      It already exists. What do you think is the difference between the 950 HP and the 975 HP engines? They're the exact same iron set it's a software 'unlock'.

      • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:07AM (#51328313) Homepage
        I've commented on this before. IBM, I believe, called this 'functional pricing' in the 1970s. When I started in computing in the mid 1970s, ICL (UK mainframe manufacturer) had two printers, a 300 lines per minute and a 600 lines per minute, no difference except a couple of resistors (this was pre 'unlock') and, of course, the price.

        Of course, theoretically, 'competition' in 'markets' should stamp this out. However, a great deal of competition now seems to be for the best cheating (VW et al.) and best regulatory capture (DMCA etc.). Bless 'shareholder value' and screw the consumer.
        • by cryptolemur ( 1247988 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @10:23AM (#51328659)

          Of course, theoretically, 'competition' in 'markets' should stamp this out.

          That theory also talks about "informed actors". That is, consumers being able to get all the information -- a world without trade secrets...

          • Of course, theoretically, 'competition' in 'markets' should stamp this out.

            That theory also talks about "informed actors". That is, consumers being able to get all the information -- a world without trade secrets...

            That theory also assumes that if they are informed, they will act rationally.

            • Of course, theoretically, 'competition' in 'markets' should stamp this out.

              That theory also talks about "informed actors". That is, consumers being able to get all the information -- a world without trade secrets...

              That theory also assumes that if they are informed, they will act rationally.

              I'm starting to understand why a lot of market theory is rubbish.

    • licenses must transfer and how can they enforce that? car must be online? So can they hit you with data roaming fees if you drive into Canada?

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:28AM (#51328395) Homepage

      "Of course, there is reliability. A closed source, locked-down ECU might allow something to run for a longer time between servicings,"

      This is a complete falsehood. all the ECU's from the 80's and 90's were not locked down and easily modified. the 7730 GM ECU is the most reverse engineered ECU in history and was used for a very very long time across many cars. having it wide open never damaged the reliability of anything and in fact extended the life of many GM LT1 and LS1 engines by letting them live in other cars as engine swaps.

      Locked down ECU does absolutely nothing at all to reliability. the only use for it is to protect a profit center.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Off market chips exist already at least for the diesel market.You can tune them as you desire with seperate settings for seperate situations. e.g. Power; fuel efficiency, off road, heavy load and what not.

      Not sure if they are open source. They are used in the Australian outback, so I think you can say they are reliable.Some bypass the chip by sending false info.

      That said, I am sure that using one will void the warrenty, if it is legal to use at all in your country

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      As soon as it hits cell phones. As much as we want to advocate the open source nature of Android, it has not really lead to open source phones. While there are many benefits of open source, and Android has many of them, when the software hits the hardware, it tends to fall apart. That is because most of us are not going to take the time to manually apply patches and fix source code even if we have the skill, even if we have the access.

      For phones it is often a matter of insuring that the airwaves are us

    • There kind of already is, Global Village Construction Set. They share 50 vehicles & machines which is what is needed to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts:

      http://opensourceecology.org/g... [opensourceecology.org]
    • I'm just waiting for "consolization" of cars, where vehicles come with the same engines across the board, but you have to pay license fees to enable the turbos, unlock all horsepower, use the BlueTooth functionality on the audio head... and none of those licenses will transfer with the vehicle, which guarentees that car makers make a significant, tidy sum when a vehicle is sold. Similar with farm equipment. Want to use the PTO? That is a licensed feature and even though the transmission supports it, the TCM won't enable it unless the manufacturer gets $2000 for a license key.

      It wouldn't surprise me, given that a lot of the time the sportier version of a car has exactly the same parts, just a different tune on the ECU.

      Thankfully there are alternatives that don't involve going back to the carburetor.

      As Lumpy said, there is the 7730 GM ECU.

      There are several aftermarket systems such as megasquirt, though it isn't completely open source.

      There is the Saab Trionic 5.2 and 5.5 ECU which I have a lot of experience with. It requires the use of Saab's proprietary direct ignition cassette,

  • Not going to help. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @08:47AM (#51328239)

    Posting as AC because I work for one of those 'tractor' companies.

    why do people need to ask permission to fix a tractor in the first place?

    1. The EPA makes us do this. We have to encrypt stuff so that you can't easily add a emissions defeat device. If we didn't encrypt it every redneck farmer would be ripping off their DPF and other emissions devices because they didn't understand it. (Just like they did with catalytic converters way back when)

    2. Even if you had the 'source' in front of you it'd still require tens of thousands of dollars in tools chains. I would put money on the fact that the source isn't even in C. Building ECM flashfiles, in some work circles, is up there with voodoo. These aren't your grandpas ECMs there isn't a "Tractor_ECM.c" file that you can make some changes to and recompile with GCC. As far as I know there isn't an OSS compiler available for embedded PPC and certainly not one available for eTPU functionality.

    If you want to modify your tractor or car to do your bidding you're better off making your own fully open ECM from scratch. This is what they look like under the hood [dieselcontrolservice.com] and are engineered to live in places that a RaspPi or Arduino wouldn't live for more than a few days..

    • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:17AM (#51328349)

      Make a law saying that independent repair shops must get the same software and codes that the dealers get and the software can't be locked down to only on dealer systems or be rent only.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:44AM (#51328457)

        So that 'independent' repair shops can pop up across the country and remove emissions controls? They'll slap a "For off road use only" or "For demo testing only" sticker on the side while it continues to pollute at pre-2010 emissions regulations levels.

        So that they can unlock power levels that took money and engineering resources to develop? What incentive does the company have to continue to develop them?

        Different ratings may share a common set of hardware but 'just' have different maps and tunes. The difference between 900 HP and 950 HP is probably just a couple of bits. It doesn't mean it's "free". It's hundreds of man hours tuning both settings. It's months of test cell time burning diesel fuel to get the settings just right. It's reams of paperwork for the EPA to verify that we are within emissions and stay within emissions for so many hours.

        The end result may be the difference between them may just be 0xfe to 0xff but the process it took to get there may have costed $1M+. Charging for those software changes are the way we stay in business and recoup R&D costs. Now you just want us to give it away to an independent shop for free?

    • So... Megasquirt?
  • Unproductive Jobs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @08:55AM (#51328269)

    This basically sums up the problem with the economy - it is gummed up with jobs that do not produce real wealth. Sure, lawyers will say that copyright laws are important because they give an incentive for real wealth creators to do stuff, but there is no natural law that ensures that the amount of human energy that goes into protecting existing wealth would not have produced a net greater benefit for society if it had been directed at creating new real wealth instead.

    We've been here before many times. War, essentially, is a massive mobilisation of human effort in a completely pointless (in terms of net prosperity) way. After WW2 we finally started to learn to put our efforts towards building more stuff for everyone, instead of trying to find better ways to steal some other country's stuff, and for many years this was incredibly successful for humanity.

    The more I've learnt about how the current financial and legal system works, the more I realise how naive us tech people are, busy working on making stuff. Most engineers I know are smart enough to clean up against the sorts of people who get a law or business degree, but we tend to be too idealistic about how the world works. In the end it's just sad that we live in an economic system where you are better off financially trading the same houses between each other, rather than going out and building new houses (or transport systems to open up areas for new housing).

    • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:13AM (#51328331) Homepage Journal

      > This basically sums up the problem with the economy - it is gummed up with jobs that do not produce real wealth. Sure, lawyers will say that copyright laws
      > are important because they give an incentive for real wealth creators to do stuff, but there is no natural law that ensures that the amount of human
      > energy that goes into protecting existing wealth would not have produced a net greater benefit for society if it had been directed at creating new real
      > wealth instead.

      Copyright was built with the idea to give incentive to do work so that work can make it to the commons and other people can build off of that foundation. It wasn't a magic formula to make cash and that's how it is treated today.

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
        Copyright when it was originally conceived was to protect an author (creator) against a distributor stealing their work and profiting from it, pure and simple. To obtain a copyright, you had to file paperwork and a copy of your work with the Library of Congress, and you got 14 years of protection for providing a copy for posterity (one of the original goals of copyright. If you filed more paperwork, you could get that extended to 28 years, which seems more than enough to profit from your work in exchange fo
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:12AM (#51328329)

    New auto drive car = no more updates after 1 year so you need to buy a new car to get that update.

    There should be a law say that they must get free updates for at least 5-7 years even if there needs to be a computer replacement to fix an safety issue that must be done at there cost.

    • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:38AM (#51328437)

      Simple law: If you sell something, the customer must have the right to repair it or you must offer full zero-deductible warranty for the (clearly) advertised lifetime of the device or software.

    • Your make-believe scenario is unlikely given that there is safety regulation via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and liability for bugs that kill people (see: lawsuits in the news related to normal car software bugs that cause issues with braking/accelerating/etc.)

      Even in terms of hardware cars have recalls for faulty parts (see: airbags) over a decade after the car was designed/built/sold.

      Cars aren't video game software.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 @09:20AM (#51328365) Homepage

    You reverse engineer it, publish all the information anonymously and tell these companies to FUCK THEMSELVES.

    It's starting in the Car world, The reverse engineering of the Honda ECU's you can get the details and source code out there if you look hard enough. some GM ECM's have been completely hacked, and the BMW dealership coding software has been released and you can get it.
    Tractors in the article are incredibly niche devices so it's going to take longer, but full details needs to be published publically and everyone needs to spread it far and wide.

  • You mean that if we hand responsibility to lawyers, the only outcome is lots of paper full of legalese, but nothing which is helpful to solve real-world problems? Damn, if just somebody had known that beforehand.

  • Wouldn't it be simpler at that point to simply chuck the original controller and replace it with something custom? Internal combustion engine control, and usual ways of controlling and managing the machine of a tractor's complexity aren't exactly new things and don't quite require a Ph.D. in controls engineering. I'd say it's something a decent undergrad should be able to prototype in a couple of months, I'd hope...

    • Why not offer the tractor bare, with no locked operating system? The farmer could then choose what software he wants to run his machine, once it becomes available. Sure, the manufacturer would offer their own OS but if the hardware was well documented, so could competition. It only makes sense, if the manufacturer wants to lock up their ECU with copyright law then the law should also compel manufacturers to provide documentation, just like they always have, for others to write code to run their machines. As

  • Want some cheese with wine?
  • Personal ownership is the cornerstone of capitalism. So if these people are against personal ownership then they can't be capitalist.

  • Maybe your tractor shouldn't have a computer. Maybe most of the crap in your home shouldn't have a computer, and it sure shouldn't be connected to the internet. The computer is the first part of any home appliance that breaks, and it is completely unnecessary in most cases.
    • Maybe your tractor shouldn't have a computer. Maybe most of the crap in your home shouldn't have a computer, and it sure shouldn't be connected to the internet. The computer is the first part of any home appliance that breaks, and it is completely unnecessary in most cases.

      Yeah I don't get it. A tractor should be a bunch of gears and wheels attached to a large diesel engine with a seat on top. Where the fuck does a fucking computer come in??

      • A tractor should be a bunch of gears and wheels attached to a large diesel engine with a seat on top. Where the fuck does a fucking computer come in??

        The ECU exists in large part to control the diesel engine in a manner that prevents it from emitting excessive soot and greenhouse gases.

        • A tractor should be a bunch of gears and wheels attached to a large diesel engine with a seat on top. Where the fuck does a fucking computer come in??

          The ECU exists in large part to control the diesel engine in a manner that prevents it from emitting excessive soot and greenhouse gases.

          I'm sure the global fleet of tractors is the main source of soot and greenhouse gasses...

      • by PRMan ( 959735 )

        It's so funny that everyone on Slashdot will argue that "Global Warming/Climate Change is 100% real and caused by your SUV, soccer mom!"

        But then when someone wants to reasonably control air quality so that we can all breathe, the same people are saying, "Tear out the computer and bypass it and burn as much dirty diesel as you want to!"

        • It's so funny that everyone on Slashdot will argue that "Global Warming/Climate Change is 100% real and caused by your SUV, soccer mom!"

          But then when someone wants to reasonably control air quality so that we can all breathe, the same people are saying, "Tear out the computer and bypass it and burn as much dirty diesel as you want to!"

          For sure, all those tractors sitting in stop-start traffic would be a major culprit for air pollution!

    • The computer is the first part of any home appliance that breaks, and it is completely unnecessary in most cases.

      That's a quality control / hardening issue, not the fact that it's technology. And with most of my home appliances that have ever failed, it's junk buttons or touch buttons that fail long before the actual "computer". I have a microwave that works perfectly fine aside from 4 of the 10 number pad buttons failing.

      I'd rather have an oven with a digital temperature display and even a built-in timer function than a dial. And especially since it has the "cooktop on" and "surface hot" indicator/reminder lights

      • I'd rather have an oven with a digital temperature display and even a built-in timer function than a dial. And especially since it has the "cooktop on" and "surface hot" indicator/reminder lights (both requiring logic controllers / CPU).

        My oven has both dials and a digital display. The dials still work great. The digital display not so much. Unfortunately, most electronic components don't work very well in the environment that most electronic components are subjected to.

        • But that's only a matter of a couple dollars in manufacturing cost to avoid this. If we can send electronics on an F-22 or a space shuttle, we can get an oven to be hardy against the harsh environment. But the electronics for an oven aren't in the heat. The thermostat is really the only thing with an excuse to fail from heat. A Core i7 gets hotter than the CPU in an oven control panel.

  • Didn't we discuss this last year?

    http://tech.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

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