Free software at the core of the right to repair
In the beginning of 2021, we started our Fight to Repair campaign with our animated video of the same name. The right to repair movement is one that strongly aligns with our fight for free software. When we launched the campaign, we explained:
You can't even begin to repair something if you can't open it up and look at it. You can't do the repair if you aren't allowed to move the parts around or add your own new parts. When the "something" is software, this means you need to be able to look inside that software and at its source code, and you need to be able -- and allowed -- to change it. If you don't like to do repairs yourself, you need to be able to choose any repair person you trust to do them.
These movements have always been strongly aligned, but two years ago, we felt the need to make the point of stating the fight should continue well beyond obtaining the rights to replacing a screen, a battery, or any other mechanical part of our tools. Today, the two movements have become even more intertwined, as many hardware tools include software. For example, home appliances, cars, and tractors are among the growing number of hardware that run software on a so-called "license" model. This raises the question: who owns your machine?
And as we have learned recently with the help of some clever hackers and persistent farmers, some of the software running on this hardware is actually free software. At LibrePlanet 2023: Charting the Course, we lined up some outstanding right to repair advocates to speak at the event. We welcomed Elizabeth Chamberlain from iFixit for our closing keynote. We also had Australian hacker Sick.Codes tell us all about how he hacked into John Deere tractors to discover that the machines seem to run mostly free software, but John Deere does not distribute the source code as per the licensing terms of that software. Afterward, they both joined a panel hosted by Free Software Award winner Paul Roberts, which also included engineer and farmer Kevin Kenney.
All three of these talks are well worth watching, especially if you want a better understanding of how the restrictions commonly discussed in the right to repair movement overlap with the fight for free software. The talks discuss Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) for example -- but they also illustrate how the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve are purposefully trampled on in order to deny users their right to repair, and how free software licenses are violated by major corporations. As a result, users are subject to the control of these corporations and lack true ownership.
These right to repair advocates are making sure the question of who is in control of our technology is being heard. All across the US, they are bringing the conversation into state governments; globally, they are forcefully backing manufacturers into corners. You can help in this endeavor. As Chamberlain said during her keynote at LibrePlanet: "GNU General Public License (GPL) enforcement is one of the best tools we've got for getting manufacturers to free their software in a way that's useful for repair."
However, GPL enforcement is only possible because of the copyright assignments that have been collected over the years. The current support we can give to the right to repair movement at this time is a strong argument for the FSF to continue this work. The free software movement will continue to benefit from a strong position in copyright enforcement. As is illustrated so beautifully by the right to repair, other movements are also served by our free software work. This mutually beneficial relationship helps protect our freedoms from being trampled on in more ways than one.
We join the right to repair in their call upon you to look for GPL'd software in your devices and, when the vendor is not distributing the source code as required, appeal to the manufacturers to obtain the source code. You can do this by emailing FSF's licensing team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help the free software movement by supporting the right to repair. Help the right to repair movement and, in the specific case of John Deere, farmers everywhere by supporting free software. These are both movements that are protecting people's four freedoms, and we stand stronger together.