Why now: Every three years, the copyright office decides which freedoms we should have. Copyright law is shaping up to be the next big battleground in technology. It's fundamentally redefining ownership. Due to a terrible clause in the DMCA (section 1201), by default it's illegal to bypass digital locks on hardware that you own.

We've been chronicling the problems this is causing:

It's that time again and the Copyright Office has asked which freedoms they should grant! A whole bunch of friendly organizations have submitted requests for 27 exemptions, for everything from modding your car to fixing your tractor to reading e-books in braille and unlocking tablets. EFF has posted all the exemption requests here.

What you can do:

But the most important thing you can do is to show the Copyright Office how the DMCA is hurting you or your business:

Kyle Wiens is the co-founder of iFixit and has been crusading to make it easier for people to fix things for over a decade. I've testified in front of the International Trade Commission, written hundreds of open source repair manuals, and campaigned online and in DC to pass the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act that re-legalized phone unlocking.

Parker Higgins directs copyright-related activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a badass non-profit fighting to make sure your civil liberties make it onto the web and into your devices intact. EFF has participated numerous times in the DMCA rulemaking, previously securing important exemptions such as jailbreaking of phones.

Sherwin Siy from Public Knowledge was instrumental in getting phone unlocking legalized and has filed an exemption request for using the feedstock of your choice in 3D printers and another for ripping your DVDs to your iPads/tablets. He also wants to plug another proposed exemption for unlocking data from medical devices. Sherwin Update 11:30: I'm going to step out a bit, I'll check in later. OK, folks, I'm going to step out for a bit. The Copyright Office wants us to prove to it that moving a move from a DVD to an iPad isn't illegal, so I'm off to dig up all the stuff from the history of the Copyright Act, through the Sony Betamax decision, through this year's Fox v. Dish case. I'll try to stop by later to pick up any stray questions, but thanks everyone for the great chat--and especially Parker and Kyle for letting me butt in! PS: The structure of the DMCA makes me mad because it allows twisted applications of the law, but its restrictions also means something to me personally, in exemptions that PK didn't suggest.

Proof: Kyle, Parker, Sherwin

Update: Great job, everyone! We gathered 1960 comments to send to the Copyright Office. Boy will they be excited to get them. Keep them coming until February 6, and make them as personal + detailed as you can!

Comments: 839 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

RighteousDeuce538 karma

What's the actual impact of a law making it illegal to hack your car's computer, or bypass restrictions on a coffee maker, or whatever? Would penalties be directed more at the consumer who was "breaking the law" or the parties providing the information or tools to the consumer?

kwiens247 karma

The actual implication is that manufacturers use the threat of legal action under the DMCA to stifle competition. That's what happened to our good friend Sina Khanifar when he developed a cell phone unlocking tool. Most of the time, the developers and consumers who get hit with legal threats simply bow down to the pressure. They pull their apps and take down their websites—because it's hard to fight Big Copyright and their relentless cadre of lawyers. Sina teamed up with the EFF and fought back. And now we have a Cellphone Unlocking Law because of it.

It also stifles toolmaking. Developers are afraid to tinker with hardware, and security researchers are afraid to do their work. This has chilling effects on the entire ecosystem, harming consumer choice and increasing our risk of undetected security vulnerabilities.

MetalFaceDoom322 karma

iPhone Repair store owner here - I just wanted to say thank you guys for all you have done for me. Owning a small business was a dream of mine, and your guides have helped me immensely. Keep doing what you are doing! I'm Ron Burgundy?

kwiens197 karma

It sounds like you're making a go of it. Running your own business is hard, draining, all-consuming, and immensely rewarding. Well done!

iFixit is doing everything we can to support local repair. Running your own business is hard. We've launched a ton of open source resources with iFixit Pro to help make it easier.

I love (DRM Free) lamp. Stay classy.

DJSundog142 karma

If you were forced, by a sealed court order from a secret court, let's say, to choose one action that your average consumer could take each day to help eradicate DRM and the DMCA's overbearing rules over said consumer's legally purchased property, what action would you have said consumer do?

Asking for all my friends.

kwiens309 karma

I would start every day with a steaming cup of non-Keurig coffee in a hacked Keurig 2.0.

Then I'd mosey on over to the Cydia app store to buy some awesome apps like BatteryDoctorPro and support indie devs that have opted out of Apple's walled garden.

If my hypothetical consumer happened to be a coder, I'd donate a bit of time to help out some awesome open source apps like RomRaider (an incredible open source engine modding / repair tool).

But even if I wasn't a coder, I'd sure as heck take advantage of the freedoms that open source communities like RomRaider (car repair), FarmHack (ag equipment hacking), OpenWRT (better wireless router firmware), SamyGo (replacement Samsung TV UI), iFixit (repair guides for everything), OpenECU (car tinkering tools) have created for us. There are hundreds of tools out there that have improved existing products with incredibly useful hacks, tweaks, fixes, and documentation. Use them!

SMYTAITY134 karma

In your opinion why won't manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung move to control a parts industry the same way auto manufacturers have?

kwiens173 karma

They're doing so now and we expect they may increase their iron grip in the future.

The best way to fight back against this is to support independent repair and speak up to manufacturers and politicians about the need for independent parts.

Darrel Issa, Zoe Lofgren, and a few other members of Congress have considered reforming patent terms for auto parts to combat this problem. They proposed the PARTS Act last year. We should consider the same reforms for electronic parts.

jtr8178107 karma

I'm involved in the Commercial Truck world, and this locking of ECMs/ECU's is crazy. Say I own a couple trucks. I want to limit the speed to a max of 75 MPH, and also have it so the headlights come on when the wipers do. I have no way to do this on my own. I have to beg a dealer to sell me the software (Costing $600 & up PER ECU/ECM per year) or go to my local dealership and have them charge me a couple hundred bucks to do it. It takes them literally 5 minutes to change a parameter. I hope that some day they follow what is going on in the auto world, but it is light years away I'm afraid. Have commercial trucks ever come up in your conversations?

kwiens87 karma

Diesel trucks come up a lot on our conversations. We will submit testimony from a independent Diesel mechanic talking about exactly the issue that you bring up.

What we need is open source software like RomRaider and OpenECU for all the major diesel engines. That could happen, but programmers like me are afraid of writing it because of the legal risk.

If we get the DMCA exemption for repairing cars, I think we'll see a lot more innovation in this space.

I'll give you a practical example. Detroit Diesel has an option in their software to change the temperature that the radiator fan kicks on at. I'm pretty sure that Cummins' software doesn't have that setting — maybe they only want their dealers to be able to do it, or maybe they just never got around to adding that feature.

So if you have a repair that requires changing that setting, the only way you could do it is to pull the firmware off the ECU, decompile it, change that value, and reflash the ECU. It's technically possible (maybe a bit difficult, but hey—we're smart folks!), but legally very sketchy. Thank you, DMCA.

Once this is legal, all it takes is one person to figure out how to do it, post it online, and then the rest of us benefit.

justdoingmyjob100 karma

What are the counter-arguments (i.e. those used to defend the opposition's point)? Who exactly are manipulating the legal system to make repairs, jailbreaking, etc., illegal?

I'd simply like to be better informed. It's also important, I think, to know what one is up against. Sources to any information would be appreciated.

kwiens186 karma

Manufacturers cite a lot of different reasons for hitting consumers with a big copyright/DRM stick. In the case of repairs, they often claim that only their authorized repair techs know how to make those repairs—and putting locks over the system prevents ill-equipped consumers or techs from screwing up the product. When Keurig slapped DRM over their brewers, they justified it by saying that they were ensuring that consumers got a superior and a safe coffee product. The list goes on. Whether or not you buy the counter-argument, it's key to remember that manufacturers are using a copyright law to criminalize activities that have nothing to do with piracy. And that's just not okay.

spacebrony48 karma

I thought unlocking was legal now? Did that get revoked?

kwiens33 karma

Good question. Exemptions are granted on a rolling, 3 year basis. Last go-round, they removed the phone unlocking exemption. Then Congress and Obama overruled them. But they didn't pass a permanent exemption — they just kicked the can down the road a few months.

Everyone I've talked to expects that the Copyright Office will renew the phone unlocking exemption — it would be political suicide not to. But will they legalize unlocking tablets? What about bypassing DRM on cars or using your own feedstock on 3D printers? That's up in the air.

PureNonsense41 karma

I understand that this is a problem because of how it essentially redefines ownership, but what are the main implications of this beyond not being able to jailbreak your phone or hack your own car's computer? Do you think that this will get extended and be applied to other things as well, or will it just apply to those things which are explicitly stated? Also, how can these rules be enforced? I can't imagine a scenario in which I would get "caught" if I had a jailbroken iphone or a modded computer in my car. I want to thank you guys for everything that you do to protect our digital freedoms. Lots of people take this for granted and if it weren't for people like you, then who knows what sort of stupid laws we would be living with right now!

kwiens76 karma

Phones and cars are just the start. Electronics are moving into everything from coffee pots to washing machines. DRM is the logical next step for just about every product that a manufacturer wants to control.

Section 1201 stifles innovation. When coders and hackers that developing tweaks for new products will turn them into criminals, they stop coding and hacking. We've seen far more diesel modding tools come out of Canada and the UK than we have in the US because developers are afraid.

SherwinPK39 karma

Part of it is what happens if you're "caught" doing something else that a copyright holder or a manufacturer doesn't like. Maybe that's selling add-ons that compete with theirs. But that's not illegal, so they can get you for a 1201 violation instead.

As for what other things the law applies to--it's actually not specifically about cars, phones, 3d printers or anything else--it's about anything that has DRM controlling access to copyrighted work--which includes all sorts of software as well as media like books, movies, and music.

kwiens35 karma

Hi Sherwin! It's great to have a lawyer here to back us up.

Sherwin filed an exemption request for using the feedstock of your choice in 3D printers. You can submit your comments in support of his exemption here.

azoolie37 karma

What is your opinion on manufacturers using security screws? Does this have an impact on users' right to modify their products?

They may come up with new types as the current stock become more commonplace.

kwiens93 karma

I think it's bullshit. You'll notice that they only use security screws on the outside, and go back to regular screws once you're in the device.

Fortunately, it's not too hard to make a new screwdriver. It's a pain and has a big environmental impact, but it's quite a bit easier than the cat-and-mouse we have to play on the software side of things.

But it's a good metaphor for what's happening everywhere. Who owns our things? The manufacturers think that they do, and the rest of us should just fork over money whenever they ask us to.

It's a purposeful and overt slap in the face that acts to erode the can-do tinkering culture that has built the modern world.

If we succeed at neutering this generation's ability to tinker, who is going to design the next generation of hardware? Every engineer that I know got excited about their discipline by taking things apart when they were young.

123whoa29 karma

I fix iPhones for a living, started about 3 years ago after discovering ifixit. Thanks! So my question is.. How will these new policies effect iPhone and mobile repair? PS: are you guys hiring? :)

kwiens41 karma

I have concerns about the future of mobile repair.

Anytime you fix something, you're playing on someone else's turf. Manufacturers create these devices and have a huge number of tools at their disposal to prevent repair.

Some of them are practical: proprietary screws, glued together designs, difficult to open cases, and hard to source parts.

Some of them are legal: trademarks on critical components, restrictions in the app store (Apple won't approve apps that report battery or hardware state), secret diagnostic codes, unavailable service manuals, and all the DMCA concerns that we're raising here.

iFixit's mission is to teach everyone to fix everything. We've spent the last decade systematically eroding barriers to repair. If manuals aren't available, we write a new one. If parts aren't available, we make them or part out existing products. If people are having trouble starting repair businesses, we share resources to make it easier. Now, repair faces legal threats. So we're laser-focused on removing them.

We'll continue to fight for the future of repair as loudly as we can, for as long as we have the breath to do so.

parkerEFF15 karma

Did everybody notice it's also my cake day?

kwiens5 karma

You should send Maria Pallente a cake!

kiisfm15 karma

Can Bitcoin be used to fight back?

kwiens34 karma

Our new Digital Right to Repair campaign is brand new and we forgot to add a bitcoin option. Doh! Soon.

So give your bitcoins to the EFF!

EH6TunerDaniel13 karma

A while back on ifixit's website, it said they were teaming up with Apple to make future devices more repairable for the users. What ever happened with this, and why now is the opposite happening?

kwiens32 karma

That particular story was posted on April 1 of last year.

Tangerine_Dreams11 karma

Thank you so much for doing this AMA - this is a subject close to my heart, as I was part of the original iPhone jailbreaking scene (albeit in a small capacity).

My question is simple: I don't really have any money, but I have plenty of free time and a strong computer science background. How can I best help the cause?

kwiens7 karma

PM me or sinak. We're putting together a cadre of coders to help us make forms like this one. The source is here.

Also, if you have a talent for reverse engineering ECU's, that's a good start.

NevaMO11 karma

I love the videos! Can you make the people say the part # of the screwdrivers match up to what the parts are in the store?

kwiens11 karma

I will mention that to Gwendolyn. Our photo guides do link directly to the screwdriver that you need, and usually go into more detail than the videos.

chinese_boyfriend10 karma

Kyle, do you still have that awesome old Gibson bass?

kwiens13 karma

'65 Gibson SG FTW. I haven't written a repair manual for it because it just won't stop truckin'.

centerde9 karma

Why are there over 1,000 upvotes yet only 50 and 60 signatures on the petitions? Also what would be first thing you would do if unlocking became legal?

kwiens5 karma

Our dmca.digitalrighttorepair.org form is up over 10521670 comments to the Copyright Office. So people are speaking up. Thank you, everyone!

I_am_Nathan4 karma

What freedoms from copyright do you fight for? It would be unrealistic to have all created content copyright free wouldn't it?

kwiens11 karma

iFixit is an open source community. And we very much believe in open source principles. That said, copyright has a place—and supporting DMCA reform doesn't mean that we're advocating for an overthrow of copyright altogether. Specifically, there's a section of the DMCA (Section 1201) that makes it illegal to circumvent a digital lock over the top of copyrighted content. 1201 doesn't take intention into account. So, a consumer hacking their own car, or jailbreaking their own console, or unlocking their own tablet, or hacking their own calculator (not to pirate content, but just to tinker) could run afoul of copyright law.

That's what we are trying to change. Here's a specific list of the freedoms we are seeking from the Copyright Office right now. And we will continue to support wider DMCA reform in Washington.

It's triple jeopardy.

  1. It should be legal to make tools to bypass DRM. (It's not.)
  2. It should be legal to use those tools to access content or hardware that you own. (It's not.)
  3. It should not legal to steal or distribute that content.

1201 makes the first two illegal, which is unnecessary since #3 has always been illegal.

jfalcon2063 karma

I totally get why we're focusing on phones. But shouldn't the real argument be reforming the laws that surround patent/copyright/DMCA? Certainly there have got to be other groups with similar goals so that you can march up the hill like the League of Justice dropping in to kick a little ass.

It just seems weird that the Copyright office should grant freedoms instead of grant restrictions. That just tells me the system is completely broken.

kwiens6 karma

Good idea! Let's fix the DMCA.

sphere20403 karma

Wow, what a power couple - iFixit + EFF.

Huge fan of both these organizations. Thank you to both for what you do. Its only natural that you work together.

You need to get the Rogers Family Company on board. They are facing the same issue with their Freedom clip

The Coffee pod issue needs to be added to the exceptions list. Nothing will get people riled up more than their morning cup of Joe. I bet even the folks at the Copyright Office will finally get it, when their morning joe is at stake.

This comment was removed, because i didn't ask a question. What is this, Jeopardy?

kwiens3 karma

I'm not sure, but I think that the home appliance exemption might cover coffee machines. I need to invoke SherwinPK to answer this one though.

Inzire3 karma

Hey iFixit. Thank you for all your guides. They make my everyday much more easier. Please continue.

Would you either like USB Type C or Thunderbolt on the new MacBook air?

Sincerely, Apple Employee at Denmark.

kwiens2 karma

You're welcome! Good question, let me look into that.

troll-bait3 karma

How long does it take and how much does it cost for you guys at iFixit to do a successful teardown on new devices? (Min/Max/Avg)

kwiens12 karma

Usually there's three or four of us working on it. 6-14 hours each, in parallel. Frequently we're doing it in the middle of the night our time.

When we fly to Australia to get a new iPhone, it's around $1800x2 for flights, a couple nights in a hotel, $1000x2 for the phone (we buy a backup that we often return), and $25 for beers afterwards.

But it's worth it to know what's inside! Because dammit, we're curious.

Once we're done with the teardown, we use the same phones to write a comprehensive repair manual for it. That takes a lot longer than the teardown, and is a much more useful long term resource.

ofcrpls3 karma

How do you think Project Ara will help dissipate the lockdown on the smartphone repair industry?

kwiens3 karma

If it's a successful product, it will send a strong signal to the market.

MrPoochPants2 karma

I just want to say that I like your guys guides and access to parts for iPhone repairs. Granted, I ended up spending like 400 dollars repairing and then breaking my iPhone 5 like 4 times, when I could have sent it off for 99 and got a replacement, but still, its nice that I now know I never want to do that again. If this comes off as snarky, I don't mean it to. I legitimately like what you guys are doing, I just suck, and the damn parts are so tiny.

And since this is an AMA and I have to ask a question, do you like pie? If so, what kind?

kwiens2 karma

iFixit is militantly pro-pie. And for the love of lemon meringue, we will fight to defend the rights of fellow pie-lovers—if those rights should ever be jeopardized.

akdigitalism2 karma

Side question. How is dozuki coming along??!

kwiens3 karma

Dozuki is going really well! Thanks for asking. (Dozuki is the version of iFixit's software that we provide to companies for $ and open source projects for gratis.)

We have quite a few active and successful communities using Dozuki to support their open source projects. Some of our most popular public Dozuki sites include Printrbot, Open Source Ecology, Open ROV, and Hexbright.

Just like Github, Dozuki is free for open source projects. Feel free to use it if you are looking to create documentation for your own project!

KnowsAboutMath2 karma

I do not own a phone complex enough for the concept of unlocking to apply, so I shall only ask:

iFixit: Do you draw your name from that of Mr. Fixit the fox from the Richard Scarry books?

That is all.

kwiens2 karma

No, but that fox is adorable. Maybe we should adopt him?

garethjax2 karma

Can we really make a difference ? I mean, Apple has more cash reserves than the united kingdom. source When a company reach "Zaibatsu-level" is there a chance to fight back ?

kwiens3 karma

Sometimes, we can convince them it's in their best interest. Apple initially fought against the phone jailbreaking exemption, but after they lost and saw that it wasn't really hurting them, they stopped opposing it.

Sometimes we can beat them. AT&T and Verizon fought hard to criminalize phone unlocking, but 114,322 of us signed a petition and Obama came to our defense. It took a huge effort and about 18 months of maniacal focus, but we did it.

Let's do that again.

groovingrapefruit2 karma

Hey guys, I met you in Nairobi, Kenya back in 2011 while you were working on some sort of movie in relation to technology around the world. I was just wondering, did it ever get finished? I forgot what it was titled and couldnt find anything when I searched. Hope the business is goin well!

kwiens2 karma

It's called Fixers! And we're still working on it. As it turns out, making a movie takes a lot of time and effort. And we've been pretty busy lately working to defend an owner's right to repair. But stay tuned! We'll get that movie out eventually.

tigersonabike2 karma

What are you in for?

"Murder" "Theft" "Unlocking my phone"

Cdtco2 karma

Did you know that you've probably won the award for most acronyms in an AMA title?

kwiens6 karma


goalslammer1 karma

Has there been any progress on the legislative side? Any congressmen or groups of congressmen who've aligned against the DMCA and supported repealing or revising?

I realize the standard answer is call your Congressman, but besides that how can we help on this front?

kwiens1 karma

Zoe Lofgren from San Jose has been fantastic. She introduced The Unlocking Act, which is the only bill that would fix this whole problem.

Senator Leahy and his staff were instrumental in getting a phone unlocking bill passed that didn't screw over repair shops and electronics recyclers. Thanks, guys!

I don't have specific names to give you as to the opposition — those are the sorts of things that happen in back rooms with lobbyists. This isn't a party lines issue as much as a question of who's bought out by Big Content. If you look at who the RIAA, MPAA, Author's Guild, and Entertainment Software Association are giving money to, that will give you a good idea.