DTNS 2814 – John Deere Hackt0rz

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comFarmers in Nebraska fight for the right to repair their own tractors. Dealers use copyright law to stop them from using the software on their vehicles. Scott Johnson and Tom Merritt discuss.


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3 thoughts on “DTNS 2814 – John Deere Hackt0rz

  1. Tom, I roll my eyes every time I hear you & Scott talk about tractors, this has very little to do with “fixing” a tractor. There’s almost zero chance that the average farmer has the coding skills or knowledge of the code base to make any productive change to any recent model machinery thru a software fix. What JD doesn’t like/want happening is to have customers take tractors to aftermarket shops to have them reprogrammed to increase the horse power & torque. (Additionally you would also reprogram the software if they have the emissions crap taken off the engine, which also increases HP & fuel efficiency) JD wants to charge customers for increased HP to increase their own profits. That’s the only real reason to change the software on modern machinery. It’s the same game Ford, Dodge & GM have been playing w/their Deisel pickups for years vs their customers reprogramming the software to increase HP & torque.

    Also, there are no small dealerships left anymore. JD and Case IH have both been pushing small dealerships to either consolidate or close for years now. They don’t want to deal w/small single dealerships. The smaller dealerships are usually 3 or 4 locations while larger dealerships have 10 or 12 locations. There are some local mechanics who work independently on machinery & will usually have a deal w/a nearby dealership to buy parts on discount.

    Also, I hope you know International Harvestor hasn’t existed as an independent company since the mid 80’s. The Ag part of International was purchased my Case & became what is now known as Case IH. (Which is now owned by Fiat, who also owns New Holland as well) Probably more than you wanted to know. 😉

  2. My comment is in reference to the John Deere story DRM story.

    While I am not a farmer myself (I work for the United States Department of Agriculture), I was raised on a farm and my Dad still raises cattle and crops in Eastern Nebraska. My main point of contention in this story is that I find the trend of companies claiming consumers do not own the products that they buy concerning to say the least. Especially if that product can easily cost several hundred thousand dollars like a combine.

    While I can understand Farm Bureau’s reluctance to take a position, personally I doubt that allowing non-certified individuals to work on their machinery will have a major effect on dealers. While there are individuals and shops that may have the skill and ability to modify the software, this isn’t like flashing a ROM on your Android phone. These are incredibly complex machines which are employed by a much smaller user base than a smart phone and probably even smaller than the Linux community. Meaning 3rd party resources of information and trouble shooting which independent shops will need are likely be somewhat hard to come by. So in the end most producers will likely need to go to their certified mechanics anyway. However the possibility of competition might be able to keep repair costs from becoming too extreme.

    Thanks for the show and I promise I will finally remember to support the show (on Patreon this time).

  3. I’m listening to this while sitting in a John Deere tractor in Nebraska, so I’m doing as I’m told and chiming in on the discussion. This might be a little long, but I’ve been involved with this topic in Farm Bureau and other areas and am excited to see it being discussed outside of our world.

    The tractor I’m in is driving itself while spraying herbicide at a rate that adjusts itself automatically due to myriad factors. Though I’m more technologically-inclined than most farmers I know, if I tried to dig in to the software code to change how this sprayer is operating, the most likely result is that I would be left with a $250,000 giant green lawn ornament.


    I have an 8-year-old son who’s into robotics and Minecraft, and it’s quite possible that in 10 or 15 year he will have the ability and motivation to change how our tractors perform. There’s a whole generation of future farmers like him that will have the know-how and expectation to be able to tailor technology to their needs. And right now it’s technically illegal for them to even get access to the code to figure out how it’s working. Making something illegal with the reasoning that “no one knows how to do it correctly anyway” is – to put it lightly – lacking foresight.

    I’ve paid a sizable pile of money for this tractor, and turning it into a lawn ornament should be my concern, not that of the company from which I (supposedly) bought it. If Deere wants to refuse to service an altered tractor, void my warranty, prohibit me from distributing altered code, or refuse to accept an altered tractor as a trade-in, that is fully reasonable. Threatening to prosecute a farmer for repairing a tractor under the same law that was aimed at cd and dvd copying? Not reasonable.

    Ultimately, it will be a little difficult to get the farming community to engage on this issue. The technology we have works really, really well, and an abstract discussion about the intersection of intellectual property rights and real property rights doesn’t improve our net farm income or soil quality. There aren’t currently any tangible impacts from the question of “who owns the tractor”, but hopefully we can find workable solutions before any problems arise.

    Thanks for your balanced discussion on this complicated issue, and raising some questions about the precedent this could set that I hadn’t considered. Love the show.

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