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Operational software in farm equipment provides many benefits but can also limit a farmer’s freedom to independently diagnose and repair problems.While manufacturers claim intellectual property rights over this software, farmers are forced to seek the services of an authorized repair provider (ARP) to manage equipment software and diagnose operational issues. This may require the technician to make an on-farm visit and spend time carrying out diagnostic work at a potentially substantial cost. Additionally, awaiting such visits may delay getting the implement back in action.

While some farmers have bypassed software restrictions, those who do run the risk of corrupting their equipment’s software systems and potentially face legal action from the equipment manufacturer. Farmers who repair physical components of their equipment successfully without employing an ARP may also find they are unable to operate the equipment. The software can detect attempts to carry out unauthorized repairs and lock users out of operating their equipment until reset by an ARP. Manufacturers warn that unauthorized repairs may alter protocols that regulate emissions and safety standards.

“The biggest issue I face is the diagnosis,” said a northwest Alberta farmer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “As equipment becomes more computerized, I don’t fully have the expertise to repair everything myself, but at the minimum, I would appreciate the ability to diagnose my equipment without spending excessive amounts of money to hire a technician, let alone the lost time from not having my machine in operation.”

In the United States, farmers have supported the right to repair movement (also known as fair repair), which spurred the introduction of bills in 19 state legislatures in recent years. Applying to farm equipment, but also to products such as cell phones and cars, the legislation is intended to give consumers the ability to do their own repairs and the option of obtaining third-party repairs.

As is now the case in the U.S., the Canadian Copyright Act allows manufacturers to maintain ownership of the embedded software. When starting up one’s equipment, the operator is shown an agreement specifying that operating the equipment indicates agreement with the licensing terms.

An anonymous Saskatchewan farmer who had downloaded hacked software from the Internet to service his equipment was interviewed for a CBC Radio news story in March 2017. He concisely articulated the right to repair philosophy. “No one is disputing that John Deere has intellectual property rights to their software,” he said. “What we are disputing is that the base code that actually makes the machine do something is part of the machine.” In response to the interview, Chuck Studer, John Deere’s director of industry relations, told CBC Radio it’s safest and most effective to seek repairs from the dealer and John Deere has made technical manuals available for free online. These can be used to assist in diagnosing problems.

The right to repair movement has yet to gain substantial traction in Canada, but as Canadian farmers acquire new equipment, they will likely take greater note of the issue.


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