Formerly, it was generally the case that if something you own broke, you could repair it; so long as you had the right tools and expertise. But today, the things we own have microchips. Software is in everything, making everything subject to intellectual property laws.
One of these laws in particular, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, has a provision (§1201) that makes it illegal to circumvent technological protections employed by copyright owners to restrict access. This carries the potential for both civil and criminal penalties. This state of affairs obstructs our ability to tinker or repair, and may also undermine crucial cybersecurity research.
Put another way, our traditional notion of property rights are under threat. And as we've already seen in some instances, our rights to sell our property without having to relicense the underlying code are becoming more and more restricted. Or even "brick" a device when it is no longer supported or the company goes out of business.
So what to do?
A number of policy solutions are under consideration. In Congress, proposals like the YODA Act would apply first sale doctrine to essential software. And at the Copyright Office, rulemakings take place every three years to consider exemptions to the anti-circumvention regime— ultimately approved by the Librarian of Congress.
Currently, eight states are also considering “right to repair” bills seeking to lift these restraints. Many companies, however, are fighting these initiatives on the grounds that third party repair poses a number of security or safety risks, infringes on copyright, and violates warranties.
As we enter an age near total connectivity, we must ask ourselves, are our laws keeping up with technology? Do we need to rewrite the rules to preserve our traditional notions of property, or embrace the brave new world of licensing everything?
We invite you to join our group of distinguished panelists for a lively discussion on this topic.
Special Advisor, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Deputy Director of Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation
Tech Policy Fellow, R Street Institute
Policy Counsel and Government Affairs Lead, Open Technology Institute
Wayne T. Brough, Moderator
Chief Economist and Vice President of Research, FreedomWorks
Coffee and donuts will be provided.