Why can you go to jail for fixing the McDonald's soft serve machine?

It's hot. The windows are all down, the AC barely works, it's 110˚F in the shade and 94% humidity. Everything is terrible and you still have another 6 hours of driving ahead of you. This stretch of highway, there's nothing but mini malls and gas station exits. "Gasoline won't cool me off!" you think, "and I can't stand the taste". Hopeless, you keep driving towards the on-ramp, when, out of nowhere, the glow of the golden arches appears in front of your bug-encrusted windshield. It's a miracle! Ice cream! You walk in, saunter up to the counter and being to order.

"It's broken"

Undeterred, you drive to the next McDonald's, conveniently located half a mile away on the westbound side of the highway.

"Yeah, no ice cream. Sorry"

This is true of so many McDonald's. Why is it that no one's repaired these things, and not repaired them so consistently? Well, it's because the right to repair these things is limited to one company, Taylor. Actually, anyone who tries to service them, be it the franchise operator themselves or a handyman, could face jail time. For fixing ice cream? Uh…

The inability to do third-party repairs on these products not only limits competition, the agencies say, but also makes repairs more costly and can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost sales. Certain logic controllers have to be discarded and replaced if they break or if the passwords for them get lost. The average estimated cost of "unplanned manufacturing downtime" was $260,000 per hour, the comment notes, citing research from Public Knowledge and iFixit. As for soft serve machines, breakdowns can lead to $625 in lost sales each day. Business owners can't legally fix them on their own or hire an independent technician to do so, meaning they have to wait around for an authorized technician — which, the comment says, usually takes around 90 days.

Gaby Del Valle, The Verge

So everyone loses, not just dehydrated travelers, but McDonald's, too. Why on earth would a business operate like this?

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) strictly prohibits anyone from bypassing the digital locks on machines, and makes no exemptions for so-called "fair use," such as disabling software locks for the purposes of repair and maintenance. And while we might find it laughable that a copyright law written to stop VHS piracy is being used to restrict industrial food machinery, that's the sad legacy of the DMCA and Congress's unwillingness to update the law over the past 30 years. Today, anyone who breaks software-locks can still face jail time and/or hefty fines. That is unless the type of machine they're working on wins an "exemption" from the law from the Librarian of Congress – obtained via a lengthy and expensive appeal process.

Jack Monahan, Fight to Repair

The exemption process happens every three years, hopefully the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice give this plea a listen. Otherwise, it's gonna have to be Arby's…

Previously: FTC reputedly investigating McDonald's always-broken ice cream machines