Good News for Fixers: You Can Now Repair Your Tech
posted Friday Oct 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz
While many aspects of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) are in place to protect the correct entities, in some cases the wording has created unintended problems. The most notable issue has been Section 1201, which is described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
Section 1201 makes it illegal to circumvent the computer code that prevents copying or modifying in most software-controlled products-which nowadays includes everything from refrigerators and baby monitors to tractors and smart speakers.
This has been felt most recently by new software implemented by Apple which disables computers repaired by unapproved people. Those unapproved people include the owner of the device, who apparently doesn't quote own the computer - at least in Apple's eyes. This policy is enforced by the fact that it is not legal to circumvent the software that locks the computer out because of copyrights.
This week, the Library of Congress, who is entrusted with the regular maintenance of the DMCA, revised the rules surrounding software circumvention, adding a collection of exceptions. These exceptions include unlocking brand new phones, jailbreaking smart speakers, and, most importantly, repairing devices yourself or on behalf of the owner. This means that getting locked out of a device you own because you repaired it should no longer be a part of the small electronics world.
Unfortunately, products that are not smartphones, home appliances, or home systems, such as boats and airplanes, are not covered by these exceptions. That means that Apple can continue to prevent owners from repairing their computers and Sony can continue to ban PlayStations from the PlayStation Network that have been repaired unofficially. While the rules around gaming console bans make sense because of cheating, allowing computer manufacturers to lock their devices because of a simple repair is unacceptable. However, as iFixit founder Kyle Wiens said,
With those few exceptions, the Copyright Office went as far as they could in granting access to the repair community. There are still significant limits, though, that will need to be addressed by Congress.
Perhaps, during a future review, more devices will be added to this list.