The Right to Repair

Fire hydrant on the corner of Broadway and Nagle Avenue, New York CIty.

As a conservator, broadly speaking, I “repair” old books. I’ve always been interested in old things and being a conservator is a great way to spend a lot of time with them. It is an essential need, I think, for humans to have a tangible, material link to the past. History is sometimes defined as anything that happened before you were born.

The fire hydrant in the above photo has a patent date of “2-05-02”. Some might read this as another sign of New York City’s aging infrastructure, but I’m impressed it is still functioning after around 100 years. At least I hope it is still functioning.

I’ll never forget tearing apart a 1973 VW bug engine in high school, rebuilding it, reassembling it — and amazingly! —  it worked. Many objects can’t be fixed now, however.  Our throw-away culture, the cheapness of manufacturing of new parts, and patent law are all reasons.

The newish looking nut on top of the fire hydrant fits a special wrench that firemen have, to keep kids from opening them up and playing in the spray during hot summer days.  This special wrench is analogous to security screws many companies now use to keep the average consumer from doing any repair on their phones. Or to lock down the software that controls mechanisms.

General Motors and John Deere are arguing that you don’t own the software in your car. And without access to the software, there is no way you can fix anything automotive. In the coming internet of things this issue will only grow larger. Do you want to own something you are not “allowed” to fix, hack, repair, alter, improve, or conserve?

Thats why groups such as Right to Repair  and The Electronic Frontier Foundation are important.  They advocate on a wide range of issues concerning security, surveillance, tinkering and repair. More info.

There is pending legislation concerning the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and anyone can comment online until October 27, or in writing until November 16.  1201 Study: Request for Additional Comments. Check it out, it is a complex, important issue that I need to do more research on it.


5 Replies to “The Right to Repair”

  1. thank you for this tidbit, if indeed the complexity of whats suggested can be so called. I explored a few of the links suggested and can see the need for expanding our knowledge base.

  2. What a great post! I missed the comment period, but you’re right, this is an important issue to follow. I do all my computing in open source Ubuntu, and it is amazing!! A month ago or so, my system crashed, and I was able to restore it from an installation CD in a book at my public library. I’m not even really that good at computers. Open source software is so wonderful–of course, it is also very human, and quirky in that sense as well. But I enjoy it immensely for its advantages as well as its challenges. As a self-employed person, it’s great, too, since proprietary software is soo expensive. Ubuntu/Linux has a great bookkeeping program (GNUcash) that is free of charge and does everything that Quickbooks does.
    One other thing I have found to be so terrific about Ubuntu is the amazing support from people who use it on community message boards. When something doesn’t work, you can search for (or post) your question and rather quickly find an answer from a like-minded user. Just like the Book Arts-L! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the links. I use OpenOffice instead of MS Word, though pretty much the same. Except OpenOffice is free.

    I also don’t know a lot about computers, but was able to pimp out my 2011 macbook pro with 16gigs of ram and a terrabyte SSD drive. So for around $400, I should have have what feels like a new computer for another 4 or 5 years. A ten year old computer is like a 500 year old book?

  4. Haha, yes, in ‘computer years’… therefore, to a one year old computer, its booky counterpart is already 50 years young! I refuse to believe that computers are disposable, especially knowing that e-waste programs are not generally legitimate or viable. Good for you for fixing up yours!

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