The primary weapon manufacturers wield to keep consumers running for the dumpster rather than the screwdriver is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Passed in 1998, its purpose was to bring copyright law into the digital era. Among other things, this law makes it illegal for owners and unauthorized repair people to break technical locks over copyrighted content, including software. Fixers have been fighting for exemptions to the DMCA, and in October 2015 the United States Copyright Office finally adopted a new set, making it legal to unlock carrier-activated phones, tablets, wearables, and mobile hotspots. Owners can also jailbreak phones, tablets, and smart TVs, and modify the software on 3D printers, cars, tractors, and heavy equipment. Nevertheless, software in many electronics, including game consoles, is still protected by the DMCA. At-home modifications or repairs can constitute a copyright violation. At the least, it will void a device’s warranty, but it potentially carries up to a $1,000,000 fine and 10 years in prison, and numerous researchers, hobbyists, and companies have been taken to court.
Isn’t the future fun?