Copyright Office voices support for giving consumers the 'right to repair'

Copyright Office voices support for giving consumers the 'right to repair'
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The U.S. Copyright Office says it believes that Congress should pass legislation to stop companies from preventing consumers from repairing products they purchase, a recommendation that has potential implications for the fight over “right to repair.”

“The Office recommends against limiting an exemption to specific technologies or devices, such as motor vehicles, as any statutory language would likely be soon outpaced by technology,” the U.S. Copyright Office wrote in a report published on Thursday, first reported by Motherboard.

“The Office believes these matters are better addressed through laws or regulations outside of the Copyright Act,” the office continued, noting that it did not have specific recommendations in regard to the exact text of such legislation.

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The fight over a consumer’s ability to repair has grown in recent years as electronic companies like printer manufacturers and automotive companies such as Ford and John Deere have argued that it is illegal for consumers to bypass locks they place on their products. That policy prevents third parties from servicing them. 

Other companies like Samsung and Apple have been less vocal but still consistent in taking up measures to keep consumers from fixing their own products or having a third party conduct repairs.

In Nebraska, such laws have led to farmers using Ukrainian black market software to hack their John Deere tractors so that they can fix them themselves.

The Copyright Office currently grants exemptions on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act; however, such exemptions must be renewed every three years and must be done industry by industry. This has led to a patchwork set of exemptions where modifications and repairs of some types of technology are allowed, but others aren’t. 

The office has seen a large spike in the amount of public comments on repair matters in recent years. From 2000 to 2012, the office never saw more than 750 comments. In 2015 it received 40,000 on the subject. 

In the report, the office argued the way companies have used section 1201 is a perversion of the purpose of the provision.

"Virtually all agree that section 1201 was not intended to facilitate manufacturers' use of [software locks] to facilitate product tying or to achieve a lock‐in effect under which consumers are effectively limited to repair services offered by the manufacturer."

This story was corrected at 11:40 a.m. to reflect the report was released by the The U.S. Copyright Office. A previous version contained incorrect information.