Pliers and Screwdrivers as Contributory Infringement Devices: Why Your Local Digital Repair Shop Might Be a Copyright Infringer, and Why We Must Stop the Craziness

Raymond, Anjanette H. | April 1, 2014

In September of 2012, Apple announced that it had received two million pre-orders for the iPhone 5 within the first twenty-four hours it was available. And while this number is staggering, the previous year the iPhone 4S sold over one million devices during its first twenty-four hours of pre-order sales. While the iPhone is a single example, it represents a much larger truth—the use of embedded software and digital devices permeates our daily lives. Naturally, as technology becomes more ingrained, consumers will expect the ability to repair technology at a local repair shop. In addition, as the cost for technology drops and release dates accelerate, more individuals will frequently swap out older generation technology for the new model. While many individuals will trade in their older technology, a majority will hold on to it and later throw it away without a thought about the possible uses of the old device. And few will consider, even for a fleeting moment, the issues that will arise in relation to the new and old device because of the copyright laws. These issues include our ability to seek repair from local shops, to trade in devices, to recycle goods with embedded technology, and of course, to maintain the technology. All of these issues demand the right people to have the right information, often contained in a manual. Fortunately, the issue of manuals being free from copyright protection has been dealt with previously in the automobile industry. Unfortunately, the issue was overcome in the name of environmental law, thus avoiding the much larger debate in terms of the copyright protection afforded manuals that contain basic and important information. The time has come to renew the debate and consider the long-term consequences associated with protections afforded this critical information.

This Article aims to briefly consider the growth of embedded technology, the importance of manuals and other information, the growth of the throw-away culture, the environmental impacts of restrictions on the sharing of information, and the current legislative initiatives to address the overly strong protections afforded this important information. In light of this, this Article calls for more attention and discussion as it relates to the current copyright protections, and for a more balanced approach to these protections. This Article concludes by demonstrating the law must institute three changes to create a better balance: (1) limit the copyright protections afforded manufacturers in relation to manuals and similar publications to life of the device or new generation release, whichever is earliest, (2) remove restrictions related to unlocking and similar technology work-arounds, and (3) insist upon protections for the information contained within the trade-in device.