Pliers and Screwdrivers as Contributory Infringement Devices: Why Your Local Digital Repair Shop Might Be a Copyright Infringer and Why We Must Stop the Craziness
Posted: 7 Aug 2013 Last revised: 14 May 2014
Date Written: August 5, 2013
In September of 2012 Apple announced that it had received 2 million pre-orders for the iPhone 5 within the first 24 hours. And while this number is staggering, the previous year the iPhone 4S sold over 1 million devices during its first 24 hours of pre-order sales. While the iPhone is a single example, it represents a much larger truth -- the use of embedded software and digital devices are permeating our daily lives. Naturally, as technology becomes more ingrained consumers will expect the ability to repair technology at a local repair shop. In addition, as the cost for technology drops and release dates accelerate, more individuals will frequently swap out older generation technology for the new model. While many individuals will trade-in their older technology, a majority will hold on to it and later throw it away without a thought about the possible uses of the old device. And few will consider, even for a fleeting moment that issues will arise in relation to the new and old device because of the copyright laws. Issues such as: our ability to seek repair from local shops, to trade-in devices, to recycle goods with embedded technology, and of course, to maintain the technology. Fortunately, the issue of manuals being free from copyright protections has been dealt with before, in the automobile industry. Unfortunately, the issue was overcome in the name of environmental law, thus preventing the much larger debate in terms of the copyright protections afforded manuals that contain basic and important information. The time has come to renew the debate and consider the long term consequences associated with protections afforded this critical information.
This article aims to briefly consider the growth of embedded technology, the importance of manuals and other information, the growth of the throw away culture, the environmental impacts of restrictions on the sharing of information, and the current legislative initiatives seeking to address the overly strong protections afforded this important information. In light of this, the article calls for more attention and discussion as it relates to the current copyright protections and calls for a more balanced approach to these protections. The article concludes by demonstrating the law must do 3 things to create a better balance: (1) limit the copyright protections afforded manufacturers in relation to manuals and similar publications to life of the device -- or new generation release, whichever is earliest, (2) remove restrictions in relation to unlocking and similar technology work around, and (3) insist upon protections for the information contained within the trade-in device.
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