John Scalzi wrote a science fiction story about the DMCA to help EFF's Right to Repair campaign

Every three years, the US Copyright Office asks America about the problems with Section 1201 of the DMCA, which bans breaking DRM even for legal reasons, and America gets to answer with requests for exemptions to this rule.

One of EFF's requests this year is a Right To Repair petition that would let mechanics fixing your car get around DRM to effect repairs. To help make the stakes clear, we asked Hugo nominee John Scalzi to write us a short vignette illustrating the problem. His response is brilliant and I was so proud to publish it!

We've got two more of these in the pipeline that I'll be publishing in the weeks to come. Thank you, John, for helping us make America safe for copyright law!

“Winston Jones?”

“That’s me.”

“Hi, I’m Breanna, the mechanic that’s been looking at your car since it got towed in. Bad luck, that.”

“Tell me about it. One minute I’m in the fast lane, the next I have to swerve all the way across the freeway to get to the shoulder before I get rammed by a semi.”

“Well, glad you made out of there alive. It made it easier for our tow driver to get to you. So, Mr. Jones, I have some good news, and some less good news.”

“What’s the good news?”

“The good news is that the only thing wrong with your car is a snapped timing chain.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. And that’s lucky too. A snapped chain can do a lot of damage. But the rest of your engine looks clean.”

“Well, hell. That’s the first piece of good news I’ve had all day. You have timing chains here?”

“Yes, we do. But... well, Mr. Jones, that’s the less good news.”

“What is it?”

“We don’t have your specific car’s timing belt here.”

“Is there something unusual about it?”

“Not really. Your car manufacturer standardized them across most its models. In fact, it’s pretty much exactly that one up on the wall over there.”

“Well, just use that one, then.”

“I’d love to, but I can’t. You have the sport model of your car, and so your manufacturer requires you to use the sport timing chain.”

“What’s the difference?”

“No difference, except they call it the ‘sport model.’ And they charge $60 more for it.”

“So if it’s the same then you should just be able to use the one up there.”

“I’d love to. But the chains have a small RFID transmitter in them.”


“So if I put the wrong timing chain in, the car will know.”

“And then what?”

“Then it won’t start. Your information screen will tell you that you need a different part. And then it will just sit there.”

EFF presents John Scalzi's science fiction story about our Right to Repair petition to the Copyright Office [Cory Doctorow/EFF Deeplinks]