Obnoxious Repair Monopolies Keep Turning Farmers Into Activists

from the this-isn't-going-away dept

Back in 2015, frustration at John Deere's draconian tractor DRM helped birth a grassroots tech movement dubbed "right to repair." The company's crackdown on "unauthorized repairs" turned countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists, after DRM (and the company's EULA) prohibited the lion's share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned. These restrictions only worked to drive up costs for owners, who faced either paying significantly more money for "authorized" repair (which for many owners involved hauling tractors hundreds of miles and shelling out thousands of additional dollars), or toying around with pirated firmware just to ensure the products they owned actually worked.

Six years later and this movement is only growing, thanks in large part to farmers who are tired of getting ripped off:

"Schweitzer wound up sending his tractor to the dealer. He says it took about a month for the repair to get done. His bill to replace the fuel sensor? Nearly $5,000. He says a local independent mechanic would have charged only a small fraction of that. Schweitzer was fortunate he had an old backup tractor, so his crop didn't get ruined, but the experience made Schweitzer eager to fight for change."

Hoping to appease angry consumers and lawmakers, in late 2018, John Deere and a coalition of other agricultural hardware vendors promised (in a "statement of principles") that by January 1, 2021, Deere and other companies would make repair tools, software, and diagnostics readily available to the masses. But then it turned around and ignored those promises completely. Meanwhile, the support headaches for many of these farmers continues, according to Kevin O'Reilly of U.S. PIRG:

"I myself called 12 different John Deere dealers in six different states, asking to try to buy the software tools and diagnostics that you need to fix your tractor, and at 11 of the 12, I was told that I couldn't buy them. Sometimes I was told they didn't even exist. And then the 12th gave me an email address to reach out to, which I had never heard back from."

John Deere certainly isn't alone in trying to monopolize repair, resulting in massive backlash and proposed legislation in a growing parade of states. But companies like John Deere, Apple, Microsoft, and others have been brutally effective in using grotesque and false arguments to scuttle such legislation so far. Including claims that right to repair reform poses vast privacy and security risks (not true, says the FTC), or that improving repair options emboldens sexual predators and rapists.

27 different right to repair laws were proposed this year, some of them improving repair options for essential medical equipment during COVID-19. But thanks to a coalition of wealthy companies fighting tooth and nail against reform (using a variety of dodgy and false claims), not a single one has passed so far. That's working out well for companies like Apple and John Deere, but it's abundantly clear that when your obnoxious repair restrictions keep turning rural farmers into hard-nosed activists, you might be facing a tough fight over the longer haul.

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Filed Under: activists, eula, farmers, ownership, right to repair, tractors
Companies: john deere


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 12:46pm

    '... why am I going the legal route again?'

    Efforts to kill right to repair laws might be working in the short term but long-term the pressure is only going to build as people are reminded that they don't actually own their own property and something they paid hundreds if not vastly more can be effectively bricked unless they pay obscene prices for a fix from an 'authorized' shop, something which along with adding fuel to the fire of getting those laws in place is also likely to get otherwise law abiding people looking into other options to get their property working again, and once they've crossed that line once they're going to be much more likely to do so in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2021 @ 1:29pm

    I'm surprised no one has thought that "maybe not purchase a green machine". If you want big green and shiny, you have to pay, no different than with automotive. Don't expect discount oil changers to know how to do work on a new Bentley.

    Issue is these large agri companies produce all the parts and electronics like the did first starting out. Some though used other reliable engines and other parts like a Cummins or Perkins Diesel, transmissions built by X, Cabs made by another. That means there is a large mechanic base that can repair those engines, transmissions and they might not work for the same agricultural company. Since electronics aren't standardized like automotive to some degree, now software has locked out many mechanics.

    If my vehicle ran horrible or stopped running and would not provide a diagnostic of that, I would be shopping around. If the part has to be programmed to work as a replacement, seems like a fundamental flaw.

    We are talking about equipment that might rival a home purchase, and your local rental place doesn't have a fleet of combines, 200+hp tractors sitting in a yard for farmers to rent when they have to take their's to a shop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 2 Jun 2021 @ 7:24am

      Re:

      Don't expect discount oil changers to know how to do work on a new Bentley

      I don't. But I do expect a discount oil changer to know how to put it up on the lift, pull the plug, drain the oil, and replace the old filter. It may be that there are specialized systems in the Bentley that require factory information, but I expect that in a good quality machine, most of the parts are going to be comprehensible to someone skilled in the field.

      The firmware lock-out from Deere damages their buyers and ultimately their reputation. At one time, people said ``Nothing runs like a Deere.'' Now, it is ``Nothing limps to the repair shop like a Deere.''

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Whoever, 2 Jun 2021 @ 5:15pm

      I think you have misunderstood the economy of farming

      Most farming in the USA is done by large companies. They can probably set up agreements with the equipment companies on discounted and time-limited repairs.

      However, small family farming operations don't have the leverage to do this. The large farming companies know that this is just more pressure to drive the family farmers out of business, and be replaced by a large conglomerate, so, in a way, they have a vested interest in the current situation.

      Because of the above, there is little choice of suppliers for small family farm operations. They can't simply "not purchase the green machine".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    smbryant (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 3:19pm

    You'd think they'd be a little more careful...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 4:46pm

    Pretty clearly a bald-faced attempt to monopolize the repair. The automakers of course are up to exactly the same thing only worse. They are collecting reams of data every day (15 GB worth) from your vehicle and uploading it to their servers where they can and are selling it for a lot of money. You cannot opt-out and they barely inform you that they are doing it. That fact is that they are. They claim that you don't own the data and have no rights to any of it. Good luck trying to get a vehicle fixed anywhere but a dealership in the very near future. Depending on your model, that future is already here. They spent 50 million dollars trying to defeat a bill in Massachusetts which would require them to open it up for independent shops. They lost about 75 to 25. The problem has also crept into parts, but they just lost a court challenge on embedded chips.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul, 2 Jun 2021 @ 9:01am

    $5000 and 1 month time for something worth $35 and 1 hour time?

    Unbelievable! I would simply show the middle finger to the "authorized dealer," or shove entire fist up his rectum for that kind of banditry! This is not just a rip-off, this is downright blackmail & racketeering, a federal felony crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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