John Deere's ongoing GPL violations: What's next
byon March 16, 2023
I grew up on a farm. My parents worked hard to grow crops and manage the farm business. My parents also found additional jobs to make ends meet. As farmers have done for millennia, my family used tools to farm. Some of those tools were tractors. Farmers now, as they have for thousands of years, rely on their ability and right to fix their tools. Perhaps that's bending a hand rake back into shape. Maybe they need to weld a broken three-point hitch back together. Agriculture was humanity's first truly revolutionary technological advancement. Since its inception, each generation of farmers exercised their right to repair their tools. This has allowed agriculture to grow and improve immeasurably. We take for granted the benefits that this has given us, and the abundance of food it provides.
The right to repair farm tools is now in serious jeopardy, not because farmers haven't fought to maintain this right, and not even because farmers haven't chosen to use tools that guarantee their right to repair their tools. In fact, most farmers are still buying tools that have a right to repair built into them, not by their intrinsic nature, but by the software that the toolmakers have chosen to include as part of the tools they sell to the farmers.
Sadly, farm equipment manufacturers, who benefit immensely from the readily-available software that they can provide as part of the farming tools (tractors, combines, etc.) they sell to farmers, are not complying with the right to repair licenses of the software they have chosen to use in these farming tools. As a result, farmers are cut off from their livelihood if the farm equipment manufacturer does not wish to repair their farming tools when they inevitably fail, even when the farmer could easily perform the repairs on their own, or with the help of someone else they know.
In particular, John Deere, the largest manufacturer of farm equipment in North America and one of the largest worldwide, has been failing to meet the requirements of the software right to repair licenses they use for some time. While we have worked for years with John Deere to try and resolve their compliance problems, they have still not complied with these licenses for the software that they use, which would give farmers the right, and technical details, to repair their own farm tools if Deere complied. This is a serious issue that goes far beyond one person wanting to fix their printer software, or install an alternative firmware on a luxury device. It has far-reaching implications for all farmers' livelihoods, for food security throughout the world, and for how we as a society choose to reward those who make our lives better, or stand in the way of empowering everyone to improve the world.
As we have been doing privately for multiple years, we now publicly call on John Deere to immediately resolve all of its outstanding GPL violations, across all lines of its farm equipment, by providing complete source code, including "the scripts used to control compilation and installation of the executable" that the GPL and other copyleft licenses require, to the farmers and others who are entitled to it, by the licenses that Deere chose to use. What Deere has provided to SFC as of today falls far short of the requirements of the GPL, with respect to both this quoted text, and many other parts of the license. And that speaks only of the products for which Deere has started to engage with us about - for many of almost a dozen requests we've made (each for a different product) Deere has yet to provide anything to us at all. In addition to failing to respond at all to others who have requested source code, Deere's inability to provide complete corresponding source to us for all requested products more than 2 years after our first request is beyond unacceptable, which is why we are making this public statement today - to more strongly encourage Deere to do the right thing and comply with the licenses they use, and to let others know about these serious problems so they have a more complete picture of Deere's attempts to stifle farmers' right to repair their farm equipment.
We stand with all the other organizations that are taking John Deere to task for its various violations of other agreements and laws, including antitrust, and we hope these organizations succeed in bringing fairness to farmers. We each help in our own ways, which is the true strength of the right to repair movement.
If you are a farmer concerned by Deere's practices, or personally affected by them, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. By working together, we can give farmers back their rights, allowing them to repair their own farm tools again, by themselves or using their friend or shop of choice, improving their lives and the lives of everyone on earth who depends on them every day.
Please email any comments on this entry to email@example.com.