What do copyright reformers and independent auto mechanics have in common? They're both frustrated by mega-corporations that use digital locks to keep people from fully using the things that they buy. The potential solution, at least for mechanics, is the Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act of 2003 (H.R. 2735 and S. 2138). According to a summary by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (which has a Right To Repair action center), the bill "prevents vehicle manufacturers and others from unfairly restricting access to the information, parts, and tools necessary to accurately diagnose, repair, re-program, or install automotive replacement parts."

Car manufacturers have always kept their electronics closed and proprietary, but as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes, cars are increasingly digitized, and it may soon be impossible to fix a car without being able to "talk to the computer" (see Slashdot for more on this). If car manufacturers continue to keep their electronics locked up, independent garages around the country may be driven out of business.

This bill is a step in the right direction, but it's a narrow solution. Why should we limit these freedoms to cars? Shouldn't you have the same rights if you're fixing your printer? The freedom to tinker is valuable everywhere, not just in the automotive aftermarket.

This legislation is good for independent mechanics, but it's even better as an illustration of what's wrong with digital locks on the stuff that you buy. Whether those locks keep you from fixing your car, backing up your DVDs, or making a personal mix-tape, they're taking away rights that you've had for years. And if they are, shouldn't there be some circumstances under which it is legal to break them?

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