John Naughton: Why American farmers are hacking their own tractors | John Naughton

A black market in pirated engine software is growing as manufacturers use digital copyright law to impose expensive repair bills on their customers

John Deere is a large corporation that makes tractors. They’re green, big and powerful and they don’t come cheap. I’ve just noticed a nearly new 6175R model for £77,500 plus VAT, for example. That’s £93,000 in real money, so imagine how proud you’d feel if you were fortunate enough to own one of these magnificent machines.

Well, it depends on what you mean by “own”. If you mean you can do what you like with your new tractor, think again. This is because your splendid machine is now controlled by software that comes embedded in the vehicle – and John Deere controls the software. “If a farmer bought the tractor,” a Nebraskan farmer told the online magazine Motherboard, “he should be able to do whatever he wants with it. You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic – he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop.” Instead, a Deere technician has to drive to the repair shop and plug a connector into the tractor’s USB port in order to “authorise” the new part. And the cost of this rigmarole? Why, a $230 fixed call-out charge, plus $130 an hour on top.

Nobody likes laying out 100 grand for a piece of kit that suddenly becomes an expensive paperweight

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