CPU Throttling -- A Perfect Scandal for Right to Repair

Apple is putting a lot of stock in the ability of their PR department to manage their latest scandal.   

It takes a Machiavellian Genius to come up with the preposterous excuse that their latest cpu-throttling scandal was done for purely noble reasons.  Wow.  Even if this were a new blunder for Apple it would be a whopper.  But Apple has a long history of deception and manipulation.  Their credibility is shot.  

Three Big Examples:

Jailbreaking (2010) – Apple actively prevented users from downloading apps from outside the Apple Store.  See https://www.wired.com/2010/07/feds-ok-iphone-jailbreaking/ .Apple had taken the position was they needed to control the “end-user experience”, which the US Copyright Office slapped down stating clearly that the end user experience is not theirs to control. 

Error 53 (2016) – Apple bricked phones that had been repaired outside of their control using a software update to check for pairing of the original home button to the glass.  Once exposed by an outraged reporter at The Guardian they cooked up a claim of their intent to protect user security, (whopper)  and then another claim that the specific software update was not meant for distribution and was accidentally released (whopper)  Under consumer and legal pressure – they rapidly backed down and managed to un-do the damage done.   

CPU Throttling (2017) – Having learned that their expert PR Machine can pivot around a significant crisis as proven by the Error 53 scandal,  but having learned nothing about consumer trust, Apple has pushed ahead with another deceptive and destructive update slowing the phone performance rather than suggesting a battery replacement..  

The only plausible beneficiary in this farce is Apple – as their marketing machine is always quick to recommend a new phone for all issues.  If they were sincere about helping consumers extend the life of older models, they had plenty of more obvious options. 

Apple is clearly pushing hard with all the money at their command to manipulate media attention and direct it towards debate about the merits of battery replacement, or the costs of replacement batteries, rather than their pernicious use of software updates to alter product performance without the permission of the owner.     

It remains to be seen if the sunlight of scandal will be in the minds of legislators in just a few weeks when 16 states with Right to Repair bills decide the time has come to end consumer abuse.   

For my part, I think they created the right scandal at precisely the right time.

Are Contracts Fair, or Feudal?

Are Contracts Fair, or Feudal?

According to Law Professor Josh Fairfield of Washington and Lee University, corporate oligarchs—such as Apple, John Deere, and CISCO—have taken back enough property rights of ownership to qualify as Feudal Lords. Peasants (meaning, all of us) no longer own equipment in the traditional sense. We merely rent it from the Lord. Fairfield's analogy, discussed in Owned Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom, is perfect. 

July 9 -- Day Against DRM


Join us in talking about DRM with fellow organizations at DayAgainstDRM.org and Twitter: #DayAgainstDRM

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

Twitter: #DayAgainstDRM

How a Supreme Court Ruling on Printer Ink Bolstered Your Right to Repair

THERE'S A REASON everyone hates printers. They break, jam, and always run out of cyan ink—which, inexplicably, also breaks them. Even when they work, toner costs so much you have to give up avocado toast for a month to buy more. As Matthew Inman, one of the great poets of his time, famously said: "Either printer ink is made from unicorn blood or we're all getting screwed."

Impression Products wanted to make toner a bit cheaper by refilling Lexmark printer cartridges. Lexmark of course hated that and sued. The fight dragged on for years, and made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. This week, the highest court in the land ruled against Lexmark. You may consider this an insignificant tussle over printer toner, but this important ruling clears the way for small businesses to fix your stuff—even without the manufacturer's permission.

As an added bonus, it should also help bring printer cartridge costs down. Good news for those of you who still print out Supreme Court decisions.

Impression v. Lexmark

Lexmark sells two kinds of cartridges: an expensive, reusable model; and a less expensive, single-use one. The only mechanical difference? The cheap cartridge features a chip that disables the damn thing once you refill it. Lexmark also made consumers sign a "post-sale restriction" contract stipulating that only Lexmark could collect, refill, and resell them.

Of course, people found a way around those constraints. Third-party companies collected cartridges and disabled the chip. Impression Products, a small, family-run office supply company in West Virginia, started selling refilled cartridges for less than Lexmark charged. Lexmark sued for patent infringement in 2013. Impressions CEO Eric Smith was baffled by the letters he received from Lexmark's attorneys. The way he saw it, his company was simply selling refurbished printer cartridges, and Lexmark had no right to control cartridges after selling them.

Read the rest on Wired.com.

As originally published in WIRED June 1, 2017.