Yes. Next question? — Unfortunately, there are those who don’t agree and in the past few days the discussion of whether you and I should be able to fix or modify things we own has been getting a lot more attention. Right now, cellphones are the issue, there’s quite a debate and some pending legislation dealing with “unlocking” phones so you can use them on any network you choose, service providers don’t like it much, while some owners want the option, but, as noted by many, it goes far beyond cellphones. No matter where you look, but especially in the new vehicles you buy, trouble codes, diagnostics and detailed service information are often very hard to come by meaning the manufacturer has a lock on repairs, a very profitable lock.
We’ve all seen the “no user serviceable parts inside” label affixed to some sealed cover that voids the warranty if opened, I always read the label as “what you need to fix is in here,” but service professionals employed by the manufacturer often quickly call out the unskilled owner as unqualified to work on his own device, which may very well be true, but does that mean he shouldn’t be able to try?
Copyright, but what about liability?
Much of this centers around copyright issues, who invested the time and money upfront, designed the hardware and firmware, who wrote the software and who gets to use that knowledge to advantage servicing what others can’t?
The other discussions I’ve seen and the comments following them fall pretty clearly on the side of allowing everyone to work on whatever he buys, and I fall into that crowd, … BUT, what those others don’t think about is responsibility, or more to the point, liability, if their repairs and modifications go wrong.
I used to work as a field engineer on extremely complex medical diagnostic equipment. We repaired it down to component level on printed circuit boards, a task we could not have done without detailed schematics and sophisticated diagnostic software, no matter how good we were with a soldering iron and oscilloscope. Independent service organizations had a very difficult time repairing that equipment without the proprietary service information we had. It was a high profit service business, kinda like a dealer service department.
There’s a persuasive case to be made on both sides of this issue, in my case, I was highly trained by the company on the specific equipment, had the best tools available and received constant service bulletins of known issues. Periodic retraining kept my skills up to date and I had factory parts when needed, why would anyone want to go anywhere else? Sound familiar?
Equipment owners and independent repair organizations said their techs could repair the equipment just as well if they had the service manuals and software to diagnose the problem, but they didn’t develop the software, design the equipment or write the manuals.
With freedom comes responsibility
While much of the discussion centers around whether you really own something if you’re not allowed inside to tweak, tune, fix or modify it, the closely related issue is who is held responsible if someone is hurt because the repair wasn’t done right. Many of us who are firmly on the side of freedom to do as we please while accepting responsibility for what we do, are not the only group out there. There are those who want this freedom to do as they please while quite ready to pursue legal action against someone else if their own work doesn’t measure up. In the medical field where I worked, it was a pretty clear danger, people could die if a misdiagnosis resulted from equipment that didn’t work right, but what if your vehicle careens out of control and runs down several pedestrians? 1-800-lawyers is standing by. A manufacturer is usually the deep pocketed party and they are a great target, so, controlling the service work by controlling access to the service documentation and software as much as possible can make a lot of sense.
While cellphone unlocking is unlikely to have deadly results, some poorly done repairs on vehicles just might. Our lawyered up society where so many want to point the finger, even when they were at fault, seems to be one more hazard, along with the above mentioned copyright issues, jeopardizing our long tradition of working on our own stuff. I am very firmly in the camp of believing we should have access to whatever repair information is necessary and be free to do our own repairs, but the issue can get muddy. Copyright claims, liability issues and, of course, the constant battle against blatant copies of your new product being built elsewhere, certainly a lot easier if the technical and repair info is available, means hands on work is getting to be a minefield these days.
So where do you guys come down on this, and why? I know there are several attorneys who frequent The Kneeslider, your take on this would be interesting, too.
Link: Wired magazine