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To the Editor:
Corporate farm equipment manufacturers like John Deere are restricting who can fix the tractors they sell, crushing farmers' consumer rights, costing them in time and lost revenue, and disrespecting the American legacy of innovation and self-sufficiency.
As consumer rights advocates battle with these corporations over the right to repair our own property, we confront the same myths again and again.
In agriculture, these myths are put forth by corporations like John Deere to maintain a stranglehold on the lucrative repair market. This is to the detriment of farmers and independent repair shops, which are the backbone of many rural economies.
I'd like to refute some of the most insidious myths I've seen. Over time, these myths have become entrenched in the minds of the media and even policymakers. Revealing them as the bogus corporate inventions they are is essential to restoring the rights of American farmers and consumers everywhere.
MYTH: Everything farmers need to make repairs is already provided.
THE TRUTH: There are significant limitations on what can be repaired by the consumer, burdening farmers with long equipment transports and wait times and resulting in losses of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential yields.
MYTH: If some corporations' repair limitations are a problem, the consumer will go somewhere else: the free market will sort it out.
THE TRUTH: The market is so heavily monopolized, there isn't anywhere else for the consumer to go, so corporations have no fear of losing out to a competitor because they each do it with their own color.
MYTH: The technology is too complicated for farmers to work with.
THE TRUTH: Farmers have been learning new technology since leaving the horse and plow behind, and they'll learn this too.
MYTH: Manufacturers have the right to limit owners' use to protect their brand.
THE TRUTH: No, they don't. The First Sale doctrine is well established: When you buy a copyrighted work, you have the right to alter that copy. So, when you buy a tractor, you should be able to fix that tractor.
MYTH: Repair tools enable or even promote tampering, which could be dangerous.
THE TRUTH: People tamper when they don't have the tools they need. Restoring their right to repair would actually REDUCE tampering because farmers would have the proper tools to fix their own equipment.
MYTH: Right to repair will require people to fix their own stuff.
THE TRUTH: No one is being forced to stop using the dealerships. The right to repair gives Americans a chance to make their own choices. People can still choose to use the dealer.
MYTH: All dealer technicians are highly trained, skilled, and worth the hourly rate.
THE TRUTH: There are other highly trained, skilled, and worth-their-hourly-rate technicians working for independent shops. The owner of the equipment should have the right to choose which technician repairs the equipment they own.
MYTH: Widely available software will lead to software piracy and other violations of intellectual property.
THE TRUTH: The software used to repair is well controlled through public/private military-grade encryption.
So, we're left with the final argument Deere makes against formalizing a right to repair: It would make it harder for them to hire technicians, and reduce the income of their dealers by breaking their stranglehold over the market.
For once, I agree with them -- they'll have to compete on the open market just like everybody else.
The right to repair is a no-brainer. A law codifying it would counterbalance the excessive power consolidated by global equipment manufacturers by requiring them to share basic diagnostic and repair tools with equipment owners and repair shops.
Ultimately, this will help restore innovation, flexibility, and economic opportunity to farmers and rural communities.
Farm Action Local Leader and right-to-repair advocate with Repair.org
Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Greg Horstmeier, DTN, 18205 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68022.
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