Update 2018-04-18: A new concept in the right to repair movement is the concept of “Repair Cafes“, some of which take place in existing  Makerspaces/ Hackerspaces/ FabLabs and Men’s Sheds, while others are making use of school workshops and other educational spaces.

But if you people keep repairing things, the corporations we invest in wont be able to sell as many new things

——————————————-

Today I came across a MotherBoardTV article today that really sums up just how deep the software freedom rabbit-hole goes. It reports on US farmers jailbreaking their John Deere tractors with reverse-engineered firmware. Why? In defence of their right to repair their own tractors, or take them to a local mechanic, instead of having to wait for service from an official John Deere approved service centre who could be miles away and take days to get repairs done. This may sound like something out of a dystopian science fiction story, but it’s happening right now, and it’s a classic example of why software freedom isn’t just a fringe issue for GNU/Linux geeks.

The question underlying the concept of software freedom has always been about whether we really own the things we buy (including the rights to repair, tinker, modify etc), or whether we actually only buy a license to use them, under terms that are approved by the manufacturer and subject to change by them at any time. As more and more household, commercial, and industrial equipment becomes computerized, and is connected to the internet (leading to the new buzzphrase “Internet of Things“), the answer to this question affects more and more people. Now, as farms become computerized, it’s even affecting farmers, a group for whom the freedom to tinker with and repair the many pieces of farm equipment on which they depend has traditionally been crucial to keeping their costs below their income.

The tractor-hacking farmers are just one example of a global ‘right to repair’ movement that has been gaining steam in recent years, made up of local groups involved in Makerspaces/ Hackerspaces/ FabLabs and the Men’s Sheds, advocacy organisations like Repair.org (mentioned in the tractor article), and community collaboration sites like iFixIt.com (who host repair manuals for a wide range of hardware under a CreativeCommons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license). Aside from citizens’ rights of ownership of their own belongings, the right to repair also has serious environmental sustainability implications. The Swedish government recently enacted a tax breaks scheme on repair activities to make it more economic to repair things rather than buying new ones, with the goal of encouraging people to reduce avoidable waste. This is a positive step, but it’s benefits will be limited if corporations are still allowed to erect a fortress of legal obstacles, using things like copyright law, patent law, or contract law through restrictive EULAs (End User License Agreements), to hamstring local repair and modification operating independently of their supply chain.

This may be the purpose of the infamous “as such” exception to the rule against software patents in the 2013 update of the NZ Patents Act (disclaimer: I am not not a lawyer). For example, it could be argued that embedded software in a computerized tractor is not really computer software “as such”, which means it’s possible that patent law could still be used against groups offering free code alternatives to proprietary tractor software. The most likely target for legal action, considering the commercially-orientated nature of patent law, would be local tractor mechanic businesses who use that free code software to help farmers keep their older equipment working. Patent law supposedly encourages progress in the arts and sciences. It’s truly horrifying that it could be used in such an anti-environmental and anti-competitive way, obliging farmers to buy new equipment when they don’t really need to and potentially forcing rural mechanics out of business. It’s essential that legislators and regulators make the effort to understand these the implications, and act in defence of the the right to repair.

——————————————-

This is part of an ongoing series on patents:

Patents #1: Unpatenting, Patent Pools, and Patent Prevention

Patents #2: Are They Actually Any Use At All? 

Filed March 23rd, 2017 under open hardware, Makers, free software

Three months ago, I watched the inspiring documentary ‘Capital C‘, which followed a handful of projects, large and small, through their crowdfunding journey, and shared it with CommonsTransition’s open discussion group on Loomio.org. One of the responses I got was from Bob Haugen, who said:

>> My problem with both crowdfunding and grant-seeking is that they become arenas for competition between projects, when I think we need to be collaborating and connecting and creating something bigger together. <<

The first thing I want to say about this is that what I find exciting about crowdfunding is *not* that it offers an alternative to traditional ways of doing charitable fundraising like bucket collections (although it does), but that it offers an alternative to traditional ways of doing *investment*. This is a point a lot of people seem to miss, as you can see in the responses when I republished ‘Crowdsourcing vs. Outsourcing: Who Benefits?’ on theDailyBlog.

I agree with Bob about the problems with grant-seeking, although as I said when I replied to him on Loomio, I think this has a lot to do with the behind-closed-doors ways funding decisions are made. I really don’t agree that it’s a problem with crowdfunding though, for two reasons.

Firstly, the money available for giving out grants is a finite pool to be fought over, and it can be suddenly shrunk by government cost-cutting turning the whole exercise into a zero-sum game of musical chairs. With crowdfunding, how much money a project group can raise depends on how well they can communicate the importance or usefulness of their project, and how much they can inspire people to contribute. Obviously it helps, especially with high targets, if they can also inspire them to encourage the people in their social networks to do the same, and to pass on the call to their networks, and so on.

Secondly, crowdfunding promotes collaboration more than competition because of the very public, transparent way the process works. If someone launches a crowdfunding campaign to reinvent the wheel, someone will inevitably point out - maybe even as a comment on the campaign’s page - that the wheel already exists. Either the group convinces enough people their wheel would be suitably new and different and they get funded, or they don’t. If there are a number of groups crowdfunding for essentially the same thing, chances are only one will get funded, and the other groups can either pool their efforts with the group that got funded, or move on to a different project. If more than one gets funded, no doubt they will hear about each other, maybe even make contact, and make sure the way they develop their project has points of difference.

Whatever happens, because the groups have crowdfunded, there is a much greater chance they will get to know about each other, which opens up new possibilities for working together. This is especially so if the people who give to crowdfunding campaigns give priority to projects who release their work under libre licenses. So it’s important for people who support commons-based peer production to support crowdfunding platforms like Goteo, which only host campaigns for groups who intend to share the fruits of their project under libre licenses.

Filed January 18th, 2016 under Makers, documentary

Thanks to organisers Enspiral, Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and Commons Transition is coming out to Aotearoa, in late November 2015, to speak about ‘P2P Design, Open Source Collaboration, & the Sharing Economy’. Michel will give six talks, in five cities, covering both Te Wai Pounamu, and Te Ika a Maui. Full tour details, including flyers that can be downloaded and printed out, are available on the Enspiral website.

Filed November 6th, 2015 under free culture, Makers, free software, News

From the Makertorium website:

“Makers, creators, tinkerers and inventors large and small are cordially invited to Makertorium on April 27th 2013, hosted by Te Papa,  a free interactive event containing spectacles, hands-on workshops, and a showcase of kiwi maker culture by innovators, enthusiasts and Makerspaces from across New Zealand.

See robots, flying machines and 3D printers in action, with outdoor spectacles that will amaze and delight. Come to the 3D Printing Petting Zoo, play with LEDs, Microcontrollers, Wires and Widgets, meet Crafty Folk or get hands-on with workshops for Mini-Makers. Make your own rocket or enter the Eggs Prize, a competition for school teams to move a free-range egg through challenges using ingenuity, engineering and design. Free entry!”

The Maker movement is opening up some fascinating possibilities. I envision communities in Aotearoa making their own digital age technologies, using open designs and free code software. If the Japanese taught themselves to do this after being defeated in a world war, why can’t we do it too?

Filed March 28th, 2013 under Makers, free software
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