To the delight of comedians everywhere the FTC is reportedly looking into why McDonald's ice cream machines often seem to be out of order. At first this seems pretty much like a waste of time, and nothing do with ag law, but it does.

It's because the McDonald's franchisees may be restricted from repairing the machines. The technicians are hard to come by and the four-hour cleaning cycle seems overly complex, but if you can’t even hire somebody other than a previously anointed technician, the market doesn’t work right. That is high prices and less quality. The ice cream machine with a repair restriction is legally the same critter as a yield monitor or a tractor that has the same rules. Imagine the delay when only a factory authorized representative can adjust, or trouble shoot a wonky seed tube sensor.

The concept is that an owner of a piece of equipment has right to repair, and the right would be expanded to require manufacturers publish diagnostic tools and documentation they use to fix repair their goods. This concept has traction in some states out east, where it was on a the ballot in Massachusetts as measure requiring data on cars that manufactures don’t like to make public. In fact, 27 states have kicked around right to repair measures in various formats.

Another concept being pushed is requiring manufacturers to create products that can be easily fix. Consider Apple products and how they are seemingly impossible to access, like the iPods. They have small batteries in them that fail after a number of years and right now, you or a third party that attempts to replace them will void the warranty if you do manage to figure out how to open them up. The other option is to toss them and buy new, which environmental advocates are against.

Who would be against this? The people who build things don’t want their products easily copied and they raise concerns that non authorized non trained people modifying their product makes the product dangerous in some cases.

Ag relies upon tech and this issue is as important to the future of ag as climate change, land use, and taxation.