John Deere: of course you "own" your tractor, but only if you agree to let us rip you off

John Deere freaked out over a a petition to the Copyright Office to let tractor owners break the DRM on their vehicles in order to diagnose and fix them.

The company's reply comments told farmers that they didn't own their tractors after all — that because the tractors had copyrighted software in their engines, farmers could only license the tractor, not buy it, and the license terms said that they needed to get their service from mechanics who had to promise to only use original John Deere parts, not cheaper/better third-party parts.

Farmers were not amused. Sensing blood in the water, John Deere's ham-fisted PR people leapt into the fray with a hilariously inaccurate letter that was meant to be soothing but ended up inflaming things further. According to Deere's "clarification," your tractor is like a book, and as everyone knows, "a purchaser may own a book, but he/she does not have the right to…modify the book." This came as a surprise to anyone who's ever underlined a passage, scribbled in the margins or dog-eared the pages.

The letter focuses on copyright's restrictions on duplicating and distributing works, but farmers — and commentators — know that the right to fix your engine has nothing to do with distributing copies of its firmware. I predict that Deere is going to get its ass handed to it at the Copyright Office, but if it doesn't, letters like this, which provide a peek into the mindset of corporations who love the DMCA, will be a major rallying point for reform of the law. It's a win-win, really — if Keurig won't set themselves up to be the poster children for the DMCA's evil, maybe John Deere will.

Thanks, JD!

Provoked by #Wired article, John Deere displays its mastery of public relations. [Mike Godwin/Twitter]