The ongoing battle about whether or not vehicle owners — on-road or off-road — should be exempted from the restrictions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act won’t be over until it’s over. 

The exemption would, in effect, allow vehicle owners to tinker with and, perhaps, modify the engines in the vehicles they thought they purchased. In other words, it would give vehicle owners (including those who own tractors and other self-propelled farm equipment) access to proprietary technology built into ECUs in the new engines.

Besides the big automakers, Deere & Co. is heavily invested in opposing such an exemption. But Deere hasn’t helped its arguments by claiming “in the absence of an express written license in conjunction with the purchase of the vehicle, the vehicle owner receives an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.” In other words, customers don’t actually own the equipment that they bought. That being the case, one might suppose that if Deere owns the equipment, it is also responsible for its maintenance and repair. Probably not, but some might claim that this is implied in the company’s comments. 

In a memo to its dealers, Deere tries to clarify the issue. In part, it said, “The author of the editorial mistakenly claims that Deere takes the position that John Deere customers do not actually own their John Deere equipment. While untrue, this claim is not surprisingly generating concern and questions from you and our customers.”

All I have to say about this is, “Mr. Deere, please say what you mean and stop confusing everyone.” 

Beyond this, results from a very informal poll we took the last time I addressed this issue showed that our segment of the farm equipment business is pretty much split on the subject.

The question we asked was: “Should farmers have access to the proprietary technology built into the equipment they purchase?”

Of the 119 people who participated in the survey, 54% said “yes,” farmers should have access, and the remaining 44% said “no,” they should not have access. Much like Deere’s responses, the survey results pretty much left us where we began: no real clarity.

But … what did come out of that survey was one comment that should get the attention of every farm equipment dealer who sells equipment with engines with ECUs. That comment was: “Give some people access to this & they trade it in a few years later, they may be trading in an electronic nightmare & who is responsible, the dealer or the farmer who ‘played with it?’” (Or maybe even the manufacturer?)

If this doesn’t give you reason to pause, then you can stop reading now.

If it make you stop and think some, maybe you should consider what you might do to minimize your liability. I’m not an attorney, but I think I may talk to one about it. 

Maybe you’ll need to have the customers who want to trade sign a waiver or to certify in some way that they have or have not modified the engine; similar to what you do when you sell a house. But you have to know this is an issue with possibilities of becoming a problem down the line. Something else to worry about, I guess. Sorry.