How long before they bring back prima nocta?
It’s a serious question.
Other aspects of feudalism have been part of everyday life for so long now we hardly notice them – and even consider it normal – just as the peasants of 500 years ago probably did. For instance, just like the kings of 500 years ago, Uncle claims ownership of all land under his jurisdiction; we are merely tenants who are suffered to rent the land for as long as we continue to pay the annual tributum.
We are allowed to use the land as the sovereign sees fit – and not otherwise. If we use it in ways forbidden, the king – whoops, Uncle – will punish us. He can also just take it from us via another noxious doctrine – that of eminent domain.
But until recently, we at least owned our incidentals – the small-potatoes stuff, like the clothes on our backs. Our cars.
Our tractors, certainly.
Not if it’s a John Deere tractor.
When you buy one, you’re actually purchasing an “implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.“ Basically, a rental contract. With the difference being that even when the rental is paid off, you are still bound by the contract.
It has to do with two things – the code that runs the tractor (yes, them too) and the ownership claims to that code asserted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
You may recall the ruckus that erupted about a year ago when the car companies floated the idea that even though you bought their car, it was still their code that ran the thing – and this code remained proprietary. That is, their property. To “tamper” with anything that could conceivably affect the code, their lawyers proposed, would violate both the warranty and copyright laws. Effectively making the car not your property, no matter the name on the title.
A DMCA exception was granted for cars – but probably only because of the rictus of outrage that erupted; rightly so.
Probably because there are fewer farmers – and most of them are wholly owned subsidiaries of massive Big Ag cartels, working the fields on behalf of Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland, et al.
But not just them, either.
When you buy a Deere, you must sign a licensing agreement (see here) that contains what amounts to the rental agreement. It basically says that you – the “owner” – will not perform unauthorized repairs or modifications; that you will only permit an authorized Deere technician to touch “your” tractor. This comes in mighty handy when you are out in the field cutting hay and something breaks and you need to get the thing running again right now . . . not next Thursday, when the Deere dude can schedule you an authorized appointment.
The money part is objectionable – but at least it is just the normal human lust for gain.
The car companies have been trying for years to force you to spend money at the dealership by making cars so complicated that almost no one without a mechanical and electrical engineering degree and some very righteous tools can successfully perform anything more involved than an oil change – and they are working on that.
The next step was to not use open source code to run the computer (ECU) that runs the car and then restrict access to this “proprietary” code by making it readable only by one of their diagnostic machines. Without the ability to read the code, figuring out what ails a computer-controlled car is almost impossible. Independent shops now often have to spend huge sums to buy the authorized diagnostic equipment and that cost often exceeds what they can make performing repairs. Hence it’s not worth buying the machine. Hence, they cannot repair that particular brand of car.
Off to the dealership you go.
The third step was to use legal threats and mumbo-jumbo – the DMCA – to make it illegal to even try to repair the car yourself, unauthorized.
Touch the car and you void the warranty. And if that’s not enough to dissuade you, then maybe they’ll sic the cops on you or “copyright” violation.
It’s what they had in mind, certainly. And Deere – and makers of other non-DCMA-exempted things with computers and code – which is becoming just about everything, down to toothbrushes, too – surely intends the same.
But the control part is the most loathsome. It is part of the synergistic bum’s rush – you can almost feel the walls closing in – toward a neo-feudal, company town kind of life in which you never own anything, control almost nothing and spend your days toeing the line and doing as you are told.
Even if you avoid debt, you still must constantly pay eternal rent to remain on “your” land, in “your” home. If you have kids, you will be instructed how they’ll be raised; your job is to serve as kind of wet nurse/chauffeur. Your car will soon drive itself – according to programming imparted by others – your owners. And forget about having a peek under the hood. An alarm will probably be triggered, an environmental or saaaaaaaaaaafety SWAT team summoned.
Short of Going Amish, I see no way out.