System Update Required

Farming in the software age: Interoperability and provincial legislation

Anthony Rosborough and Carlo Dade
March 2024
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In recent years, while governments have tried to create new industries in the West, an economic and innovation champion of the agricultural industry was in significant danger of being lost. The agricultural equipment manufacturing, or shortline, sector is a small but important employer, exporter and economic foundation in mostly rural communities of the Canadian prairies. The industry, and the jobs, innovation and exports that it engenders, had faced an existential threat from the abuse of copyright law by mostly foreign manufacturers of tractors and combines. This endangered not just the shoreline industry, but also potentially the future of sustainable agriculture on the Prairies.

At its most basic, agriculture shortline equipment refers to the specialized implements or attachments that connect to tractors and combines to plant and harvest crops. Shortline equipment must, of course, be able to inter-operate with the combines and tractors to which they are attached, like a mouse and keyboard with a computer. In today’s digital world, that means more than connecting a hose; it means talking to the software that runs those machines. Manufacturers of shortline implements must be able to access software in the larger machines in order to design and build equipment.

Historically, accessing operating software was not an issue. But as combines, tractors and other large equipment have become increasingly digitized, manufacturers have begun to limit access to the software. Recently, the largest maker of combines and tractors, John Deere, blocked access to software on its state-of-the-art X9 combine.

The threat to the shortline industry was recently mitigated by overwhelming and rare all-party passage of a private member’s bill in Parliament, Bill C-294, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act (Interoperability). The federal action to change the Copyright Act is a good start, but it is neither complete nor is it sufficient. As the act approaches final approval by the Senate and Royal Assent, the provinces and particularly the Prairie provinces need to prepare.

In this What Now policy brief, the authors look at the threat to the shortline industry, its impact on agriculture sustainability, the federal response to this threat, and the provincial action that’s needed to offer further protection to the industry.

Anthony Rosborough is Assistant Professor of Law and Computer Science at Dalhousie University and doctoral researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

Carlo Dade is Director of the Trade and Trade Infrastructure Centre at the Canada West Foundation and Professional Affiliate of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.