Bill to unlock equipment interoperability stalled in the Senate

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

A private member’s bill that aims to allow for manufacturers in certain circumstances to circumvent digital locks on computer programs or hardware — such as a new million dollar-plus combine — has stalled in the Canadian Senate after receiving unanimous approval in the House of Commons last spring.

Bill C-294, introduced by Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer, would allow shortline manufacturers, including those that make combine headers, such as Honey Bee and MacDon, the ability to legally open and connect with digital components on mainline combines and tractors made by companies such as John Deere, Case IH, New Holland, and AGCO.

After receiving all-party support from MPs, the bill has been stranded in the Senate, says Carlo Dade of the Canada West Foundation, discussing C-294 in the interview below.

“It’s fallen victim to the other issues, including a crowded agenda in the Senate. So it really didn’t get the same love in the Senate, especially from Prairie senators, that did in the House. But we’re still hopeful. There’s time to work on this. There’s time to educate. And there’s time for farmers and producers to contact people and say, Hey, what’s happening with this?”

This bill would amend the Copyright Act to allow a person, in certain circumstances, to circumvent “digital locks” —  a technological protection measure that makes a computer program or a device in which it is embedded interoperable with any other computer program, device,  or component. In other words, it will ensure that shortline manufacturers can make equipment that works with other company’s combines and tractors, for example, by granting them access to the proprietary software. (more below)

Anthony Rosborough, assistant professor with the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, explains why a bill like this is even necessary: “Copyright protects software. So access to software is something where copyright can prevent your access through something known as digital locks.”

The Copyright Act was amended over a decade ago to include protection for these digital locks to prevent piracy of music and films, for example. “But as more and more objects in our world become essentially computerized devices, including ag equipment, what happens is that copyrights, those rules of accessing software, start to kind of find their way into more and more things of the world,” Rosborough says.

We’ve seen how this has impacted farmers and others with the right-to-repair movement, but this also applies in the case of making two devices work together, and that’s the crux of interoperability and why a bill like this is looking to amend the Copyright Act.

“Currently without Bill C-294, if a shortline company wants to force interoperability between two devices, it needs to essentially break those digital locks or find a way around them and that could be unlawful, depending on the circumstances,” he says. ” So this bill, at least makes it lawful for that type of activity to happen.”


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