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DRM is the single most effective roadblock that manufacturers have deployed to prevent a flourishing independent repair market. Even when Fair Repair statutes are passed in states, DRM will still prevent owners from making any alterations to the software embedded in the products they rely on—which thwarts repair, reuse, and innovation.
If owners want to ensure their Right to Repair, they need to fight the spread of DRM in the products they own.
DRM is sometimes known Digital Rights Management and sometimes called Digital Restrictions Management. But when you boil it down, DRM is a software lock designed by companies to tie the hands of owners. Such locks were originally deployed to lock down content—like books, movies, and games. But DRM locks have spread past the world of creative content; they are now common on equipment that has no connection to media content at all.
DRM is used to prevent owners of refrigerators from replacing thermostats. DRM blocks tractor owners from resetting ignition timing on farm equipment. DRM prevents independent technicians from applying essential firmware patches and fixes on spare parts that were sitting in storage. Why? Because the companies who made those products want to keep control of how you use and repair their products—even after you’ve purchased them.
Worse, US copyright law gives companies carte blanche to sue people who break DRM. The only legal way around digital locks is to ask the Copyright Office for permission to circumvent them on certain products, and then only for certain applications. And you’re only allowed to ask permission to do this once every three years.
So, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Every three years, we beg the Copyright Office to give us permission to unlock our own property so we can repair broken stuff. We file the same requests over and over: one request to unlock a mobile phone, another request to unlock an iPod, a different request to unlock a tablet—even though the differences between those devices are technically trivial. Each time we appear before the Copyright Office, we remind them that these locks are monopolistic tactics used to prevent repair and resale. They don’t benefit consumers, and they don’t protect creative work.
This year, the US Copyright Office came to the same conclusion. They have recommended that Congress reform Copyright Law to permanently exempt repair and maintenance from copyright law (except for gaming equipment, for some reason). The timing of these recommendations is particularly exciting, because the EU Parliament just voted strongly (662 to 32) in favor of enabling repair and reuse by removing limitations, such as DRM.
Getting rid of DRM that inhibits repair is possible through Congress. Big Content is going to fight hard and we have to be prepared to fight even harder to make sure that rules designed for the VCR-era do not continue to thwart repair and reuse into the future.
For more information from supporting organizations visit DayAgainstDRM.org