November 7, 2012

The Right to Tinker and Make Stuff

Filed under: Consumer, Politics, Software Blog, Uncategorized — marcstober @ 9:16 am

I’m amazed by the overwhelming 85% support for Question 1, “Right to Repair,” in Massachusetts.

Here’s a summary of the question (from

Should auto makers be required to give owners access to the same diagnostic and repair information that dealers and authorized repair facilities have?

I suppose people will vote yes on this because they expect it will hit them in the pocketbook when they get their car serviced. But it’s also a vindication that people don’t think it’s wrong, and shouldn’t be illegal, to do what you want with stuff you’ve bought. I thought maybe I was crazy or at least living in a tech bubble from hearing that our elected leaders favor things like SOPA or TPP. Years ago I wrote to Barney Frank on the issue, and he strongly disagreed with me. And what to make of Chris Dodd’s new job?

Now, here are some more referendums I’d like to see pass:

  • People should have the right to jailbreak their devices. (This is now legal for iPhones–but not iPads nor other devices–because of a bureaucratic exception, not by right in the law.)
  • People should have the right to copy DVD’s to their iPad (without paying extra for a “digital copy,” like I did with the last DVD I bought).
  • People should have the right to keep, permanently, a book they’ve bought on their Kindle; it’s not a rental.
  • People should have the right to bring a book home with them from an overseas trip. It should be clear in the law this isn’t the same as a mass counterfeiting operation.
  • People should have the right to put their dancing baby video on the Internet without licensing the music on the radio in the background.
  • Girl Scouts should have the right to sing Happy Birthday at camp, without relying on the forebearance of those who could sue them.
  • People should have the right to create their own prayerbook with their church/synagogue’s liturgy, and not be told not to share it.

By the way, I don’t jailbreak my iPhone, and I take my car to the dealer for service. But I like to have that choice.

  • We do have the rights to do those last two bullet points, provided we adequately compensate the artists responsible for the creation of the works we are enjoying. The system of compensation and enforcement might be broken, but suggesting that artists don’t have the right to be compensated for their work simply because it becomes popular is not the right answer.

  • I don’t feel like I have the *right* to the last 2 bullet points; you have to ask permission. I’m ok with fairly compensating artists. The best example of the problem is orphaned works: if you can’t contact the copyright owner ,you can’t legally use the work, no matter how much you are prepared pay. Even a known copyright owner can arbitrarily withhold permission of just not return your call. I would be happy with compensating artists if there was some fair, transparent, enforceable safe harbor. But there’s no realistic mechanism for, say, a camp counselor to obtain permission for their kids to sing a pop song at tomorrow night’s talent show.

    I also think that at some point work does become a part of the common culture. Happy Birthday was published in 1893; anyone who truly deserves to profit off of their work on it is long since dead.