Many of us have downloaded cracked software from the darker corners of the internet over the years. Remember when the only way to get Photoshop was to buy a $700 license? Yeah, enough said. Some of the most prolific users of cracked software these days aren’t who you think. Farmers across the US are grabbing modified copies of tractor software from sketchy Eastern European websites to get around John Deere’s draconian software restrictions.
Large-scale farming is now a heavily mechanized industry, and some of these pieces of machinery can cost several times as much as your car. John Deere is becoming known as a particularly troublesome company to deal with when you need to make repairs on one of the expensive pieces of farm equipment John Deere Service Advisor you bought. Farmers explained to Motherboard recently how the software running on their tractors make even simple repairs a pain.
John Deere’s tractor firmware prevents the owners from making an unauthorized repairs. Whenever maintenance is needed, an authorized agent needs to swing by and connect to the tractor with diagnostic software. They okay the repair, and the tractor then works. Without that, it’s a very big paperweight. John Deere charges several hundred dollars for service calls, plus $150 per hour for the technician. When techs aren’t available, they have to wait. The alternative many are starting to turn to is pirating the diagnostic software themselves.
Most of the cracked John Deere programs seem to be coming out of Poland and Ukraine. Gaining access involves finding one of the secretive invite-only forums and paying a membership fee. Once inside, farmers can buy John Deere’s software kits for a few hundred dollars — the cost of just a few maintenance checks. The legality of this is questionable. The Librarian of Congress has approved a temporary exemption to the DMCA that allows owners of land vehicles to circumvent locked down software. Doing it with cracked software is a different matter.
The farm-heavy state of Nebraska is one of those pushing right-to-repair legislation, which would render John Deere’s license agreement void. Then, the company would have to sue individual customers for violating the contract if it wanted to enforce it. Naturally, it’s fighting the legislation hard. Farmers fear what will happen if right to repair doesn’t become law.
Will Heavy Duty Scanner get to decided when their tractors stop working by ending repair service? It’s like when a game developer shuts down the online authentication server for that game you bought five years ago. Except instead a game that cost you $40, it’s a tractor that cost $30,000 and should be able to run for years to come.