If you’ve been paying attention to the trends of copyright law in the last ten years or so you may have noticed something: Corporations are gaining more and more power over what they claim is rightfully “theirs”.
One of the largest company in making agricultural machinery, John Deere, is the latest in this destructive trend that continues to dispossess those who are less economically advantaged. In this case the farmers are getting hit hardest.
According to Wired’s Kyle Weins, John Deere wrote to the Copyright Office that, “…farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”’
You read that right: John Deere owns your local farmer’s tractor because of the zeroes and ones that make up how it functions.
Deere is not alone in this process; other companies have recently tried to make similar claims under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA was a law signed into effect in 1999 which helps decide the interrelation of software and hardware. Weins reports that after a hearing in July we can expect the Copyright Office to make a decision on which things we can hack and modify.
All of this may sound bizarre, but it’s nothing new.
Karl Hess, a now sadly lesser known libertarian, wrote the IRS in 1969 saying that he refused to pay his taxes. The IRS proceeded to then place a 100% lien on his property. Hess would no longer be able to deal in money to the extent that the IRS could discern he was using or making it. This forced Hess to start relying on bartering and his wife to support himself.
John Deere follows the same logic the IRS response to Hess used: You don’t really own what you receive.
In general, Weins is spot-on with his diagnosis of a lot of the problems but his ideas on a solution remains disappointing, “Tell the Copyright Office to side with consumers when it decides which gadgets are legal to modify and repair. Urge lawmakers to support legislation like the Unlocking Technology Act and the Your Own Devices Act, because we deserve the keys to our own products. And support Fair Repair legislation.”
Apparently Weins will go as far to say that “…taking back the stuff that we own won’t be easy. Corporations have better lobbyists than the rest of us.” But none of that translates into copyright itself being the problem, much less the state.
For Weins, if we can manage to tweak the existing framework then we might just have a chance of owning our stuff.
But the dispossessed are a real and growing trend within history and that is no accident. Government does not exist to be reformed. Instead, it exists to become a thing apart from the people it supposedly represents. It, like any other big institution, will try to make itself seem sacred and untouchable.
And so if Weins and others are going to take reform seriously, then let us abolish copyright and all other forms of intellectual property. And with apologies to Noam Chomsky, let’s do the only strategy worth doing in the long-run: smashing the state.