An unlikely pair of politicians — Bob Barr (Libertarian Party) and Ralph Nader (Green Party) — are jointly supporting Right-To-Repair Act of 2009 (H.R. 2057), a law that would make it legal to break the DRM on automotive systems so that independent garages can repair cars even if the manufacturers try to lock them out and then charge high rents to a select few mechanics who are given the crypto keys necessary to read the engine diagnostics:
We're all for promoting competition and consumer choice. But this bill points to a much bigger consumer issue. The problem that this law attempts to fix is the direct result of the use of computers in cars, accompanied by proprietary diagnostic tools and "lock-out codes." Sound familiar? It should, as it's the very sort of thing that can also make it difficult to repair computer systems, sell replacement garage door openers, and refill printer toner cartridges. One underlying legal problem here is the DMCA, which prohibits bypassing or circumventing "technological protection measures."
So while the Right-to-Repair Act of 2009 is legislation that deserves our support, it doesn't help those who repair things other than cars. For example, it won't help Joe Montero, who treks to the Copyright Office every three years to argue for a DMCA exemption to permit the repair and replacement of obsolete and malfunctioning software "dongles," those little hardware devices purportedly intended to prevent software piracy, but which often end up frustrating perfectly legitimate customers.