Copyright Office introduces proposal to give consumers right to hack electronics for repairs

Copyright Office introduces proposal to give consumers right to hack electronics for repairs
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The Librarian of Congress and U.S. Copyright Office on Thursday proposed new rules that would give consumers and third-party repair business the ability to legally access and alter proprietary software on their devices.

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The decision is a win for right-to-repair advocates who have argued that consumers, and the independent repair experts that they seek out for help, should have the ability to fix the devices they own, without impediment.

New copyright rules are released every three years by the U.S. Copyright Office and are officially formalized by the Librarian of Congress. The office has previously voiced its support for right-to-repair rules.

The new proposal addresses a trend in recent years in which companies have locked up systems of their products, making it difficult or nearly impossible for consumers to fix devices on their own.

John Deere, for example, made it difficult for farmers to fix their own tractors without taking them directly to a certified John Deere repair expert.

As a result, farmers began using Ukrainian software to hack their tractors in order to repair them on their own.

Apple has also begun to make it more difficult for its phones to be repaired outside of an Apple store.

Though the push and pull between companies and right-to-repair advocates hasn’t gained much national attention, the fight has made its way as high as the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2017 that once a product is purchased by a consumer, the patent holder no longer has rights to enforce how they use the item.

— Updated at 6:25 p.m.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story included a photo that did not belong with the story