Implied Licenses are Bullshit

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been thoroughly fucking over people in the United States since 1998. One of the things that the DMCA accomplished was effectively abolishing property rights on anything that includes copyrighted material. This has had wide reaching ramifications including preventing farmers from repairing their own equipment:

In fact, the craziness of this goes even further: In a 2015 letter to the United States Copyright Office, John Deere, the world’s largest tractor maker, said that the folks who buy tractors don’t own them, not in the way the general public believes “ownership” works. Instead, John Deere said that those who buy tractors are actually purchasing an “implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”


But what this has meant is that tractor owners can’t repair their own tractors—and if they do, they’re in violation of the DMCA. So, if a machine stops working, its owner can’t pop the hood, run some tests, and find out what’s going on; he or she is legally required to take the tractor to a service center (one owned by the manufacturer, since that’s the only entity allowed to analyze the tractor’s issues).

I’m against the concept of copyright, in part, because it is an implied license.

That is to say it’s a contractual agreement that the purchaser didn’t agree to. If you manufacture something and want to restrict the user of that thing then you need to get them to agree to contractual terms. For example, if you want to sell a book and prevent the buyer form copying it then you need to write up a contract that states the signer agrees not to copy the book and include penalties if the contract is broken. Then you need to convince the buyer to agree to it.

Copyright doesn’t work that way though. When you buy a book you don’t sign a contract binding you to an agreement not to copy the book. The agreement is implied, which is a fancy way of saying you were bound to it involuntarily. As the article notes, John Deere stated in a letter to the United States Copyright Office that people who had purchased its equipment were restricted by an implied license. The company is changing the rules after the fact by trying to force an agreement upon farmers through the State. In any sane sense of contract theory that is nonsense but in the statist interpretation it’s a perfectly sound method of getting buyers to agree to specific terms.

People should not be subject to involuntary agreements of any sort and nobody should be allowed to change an agreement willy nilly after the fact without the other party agreeing to those changes.

2 thoughts on “Implied Licenses are Bullshit”

  1. I agree, of course, that trying to change the terms of a contract after the fact is BS.

    As for copyright on something like a book, movie, or music, the anti-IP fanatics like Kinsella make the claim that, even if the purchaser explicitly agrees not to copy and sell the work, a third party who has made no such agreement, is free to acquire the work by whatever means and copy and sell it without restriction. The author of the work would be left with the impossible task of proving who provided the work to whom, or else the third party could flip him off and deny him any reward for his work. Some just society!

    1. I would agree with Kinsella since the third party in question isn’t bound by the agreement. Penalties could fall upon the purchaser if the anti-copying agreement also included requirements that the buyer make reasonable efforts to prevent third parties from obtaining the work. Such a contract would effectively be a non-disclosure agreement.

      To inflict punishment on the third party would be entering them into an agreement involuntarily.

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