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October 27, 2018

It’s no longer illegal to ‘hack’ your electronics to repair them

by John_A

Battles over the “right-to-repair” movement continue to intensify, but those in favor of it have just scored what appears to be a huge win. That’s because the Librarian of Congress and U.S. Copyright Office just proposed the introduction of new laws which will give both customers and independent repair shops the ability to carry out legal hacks on the software on devices in order to carry out repairs or maintenance.

What it means is that people are free to break digital rights management (DRM) and embedded software locks for the express purpose of maintaining a device or system “in order to make it work in accordance with its original specifications” or to return it to a “state of working in accordance with its original specifications.”

There is a whole lot to unpack in the massive 85-page document, which lays out all the new exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It seems fairly broad and comprehensive, however. Heck, it even includes a section dedicated to video games, in which it is noted that some these exemptions cover legally owned video games, “when the copyright owner or its authorized representative has ceased to provide access to an external computer server necessary to facilitate an authentication process to enable gameplay.”

In such situations, copying and modification of the program is permitted “to restore access to the game for personal, local gameplay on a personal computer or video game console.”

While these laws are a definite win, though, the battle is far from over. Tech giants with some seriously deep pockets aren’t all in favor of handing over the keys to the repair kingdom, and these exemptions don’t necessarily mean this is going to be easy. For example, Apple has reportedly started introducing software which could brick MacBook Pros if they are repaired by someone not authorized to do so by Apple.

Not being legal experts, we don’t know how scenarios like this will play out. Still, this is a definite step in the right direction for anyone who thinks consumers should have the ability to continue using the products they have bought for as long as possible.

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