General Motors and John Deere are Looking to Redefine Ownership

More to the point, they say that people don’t buy their products, they just buy the right to use them, and it all boils down to proprietary software.

When you hear people talk John Deere tractors, you’re not going to picture a machine running proprietary software, but the automotive industry has changed a lot in the past 30 years and it’s no longer just an engine and the driver. A layer of software has been added, and companies that invested money into that proprietary software want to protect it, by any means necessary.

John Deere and General Motors are now looking for an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is a copyright law that was first introduced back in 1998. It’s more famously known for being used to convict people who pirated and shared copyrighted material, but it has many more uses. In theory, it should clearly define what the role of the developers is and what rights the people who buy the software have, but companies are now making new arguments that would change those roles.

It’s all about the rights of the consumers. Or is it?

When you draw the line, John Deere basically states that people don’t own the machines, but “the vehicle owner receives an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle, subject to any warranty limitations, disclaimers or other contractual limitations in the sales contract or documentation.” Because these documents are written by lawyers, it makes it even less clear if that lifetime license can be revoked, under certain circumstances.

The companies say that the tractors have proprietary software and that drivers / users can’t own that, along with the machine. This can be applied to a number of other domains. For example, do you “own” your phone or are you just leasing it? The examples could go on forever.

These comments are made towards the Copyright Office by various companies, and this office in turn will decide in the near future if such claims can be made regarding the use of software in hardware that people bought.



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