Why farmers might make it easier to fix your fridge

A big step forward in a legal battle between farmers and the leading equipment manufacturer in North America could help advance right-to-repair rules for everyone.

Driving the news: A U.S. judge rejected John Deere’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit from farmers claiming the company is actively restricting services for maintenance and repair.

  • For roughly a decade, the company has been putting software on new machines that farmers and right-to-repair advocates claim restricts maintenance to authorized dealerships.
  • Some farmers have turned to hackers and jailbreaks so they can keep making repairs themselves, but that risks voiding their warranties or having John Deere remotely disable the machines.

Catch-up: Farmers have been leaders in the right-to-repair movement. Their livelihoods often depend on being able to buy second-hand equipment that they keep running for decades with regular maintenance and repairs.

  • The laws and precedents created by farmers’ efforts have a halo effect for consumer products from electronics to home appliances, which can be difficult to repair due to their own software, making parts scarce, and closed systems that are hard to take apart.

In Canada: Farmers’ associations and lobbying groups have also been pushing right-to-repair rules here, but messaging from the government has made the link to consumer goods more explicit.

  • The Liberals specifically referred to the “right to repair appliances” in their 2021 election platform, addressing perceptions about planned obsolescence on the part of manufacturers.
  • They’ve also factored into sustainability plans by making products last longer.

What’s next: Bill C-244, which would amend the Copyright Act to allow third-party repair shops to break software-based locks on devices, passed the House of Commons in October and is currently before the Senate. The federal government also pledged to introduce a broader right-to-repair framework in 2024.