That Tractor You Own—Well, It Might Not Be Yours

Once a legal issue only book plagiarizers, music piraters and movie bootleggers had to contend with, copyright law has reached farm equipment and the people who use it.

by Lisa Munniksma
PHOTO: Carl Spencer/Flickr

As a writer, I deal with copyright law more often than I’d like to. Especially here on the internet, you might be surprised how many times I come across something I’ve written that’s been copied and pasted on someone else’s website without compensation or even so much as a credit line offered to me. It’s frustrating to be on the policing end of copyright law, and now you may find yourself walking the other side of the line by simply modifying your farm equipment.

Apparently, when you purchase a tractor, you purchase the equipment, but you just lease the software that runs the equipment. So if you want to somehow make a modification that involves how the software functions, you’re no longer just tinkering with your tractor—you’re now screwing with copyrighted materials.

The staff at Wired magazine relates all of this to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is something that I don’t fully understand. This is the opposite of the open-source, information-sharing community that is often found among sustainable farmers. The tractor manufacturers wrote the code that runs the software, and they don’t want anyone messing with that code.

The high-tech-tractor tradeoff here is: You can have the fancy farm equipment with the comfy seat, the cup holder, the auto-coupling capabilities and the automatic steering, but you have to take it at face value and not perform any aftermarket modifications. Or you can have your grandfather’s 1950s clunker that doesn’t start when it’s cold and needs to have the clutch replaced every three years, but you can hack and tinker with the machinery all you want.

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