May 6, 2021

Australia Takes Its First Baby Steps On the Road To A Right-To-Repair Law, With A Consultation About Tractors

By Glyn Moody
Techdirt has been writing about right-to-repair laws — or, rather, their absence — for many years now. A recent right-to-repair post concerned ventilators, pretty much the last hope for critically-ill patients suffering the effects of the new coronavirus. This underlines the fact that being able to repair equipment you have bought is not an abstract issue, but is literally a matter of life or death in some cases. Despite that, in Australia the fight to obtain a right to repair is still in its early stages:

The ‘right to repair’ movement has finally bent the ear of Australia’s competition and consumer watchdog, the ACCC, in its pleas to be able to fix their own farm equipment.

An ACCC inquiry will examine whether international tractor manufacturers are failing Australian farmers who want access to software tools and parts to repair their own machinery.

As that news item on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s site indicates, the impetus for a right-to-repair law comes from the agricultural sector. Five years ago, Techdirt wrote about a similar case in the US, which involved tractors from John Deere. The ACCC released a discussion paper on the topic at the end of February. It seeks feedback on what it terms four “concerns”, specifically that:

1. access to independent agricultural machinery repairs is limited

2. farmers may lack recourse in the event of a problem with their machinery

3. agreements between manufacturers and dealers may limit access to repairs

4. data ownership and management may raise privacy and competition issues.

The last of these is particularly interesting. It reflects the increasing sophistication of the once-humble tractor, which now involves both software and data. The ABC story explains:

In an era of water scarcity and a swelling global population, machinery makers have poured millions of dollars into developing software that allows farmers to precisely plot their sprawling properties, gauging how much seed, water, fertiliser, and pesticide is needed for maximum crop yields for each field.

It is clearly vital for farmers to retain control over their own data, while equipment manufacturers see this as a resource they can control and exploit — for example, by aggregating data from many farms and selling access to it. People owning agricultural equipment — or anyone else — have until Sunday, 31 May 2020 to make their submissions to the Commission. It will be a while before the ACCC reports on what it finds, and after that the battle to enshrine a right to repair in Australian law will probably take years. But at least the process has begun, which could give a useful impetus to other efforts around the world to bring in similar, much-needed legislation.

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