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Kyle joined me in the Fight to Repair studio to talk about a request that iFixit and the group Public Knowledge made to the US Copyright Office a few days earlier. They are seeking exemptions to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA), a 25 year old law that makes it a federal crime to circumvent software locks used to protect copyrighted material.
In their filing, iFixit and Public Knowledge seek a blanket 1201 exemption for commercial machinery. And, to underscore their point about the obstacles that manufacturers erect to service and repair, they single out one semi-famous piece of wonky and hard to repqair equipment: the McFlurry soft ice cream machines used in McDonald’s restaurants and manufactured by Taylor, a leading maker of soft ice cream equipment.
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Taylor’s McFlurry machines, which are sold exclusively to McDonald’s franchises, are notoriously buggy and hard to operate and maintain. In addition to a cumbersome four hour self cleaning function, the machines break frequently but Taylor’s user interface blocks easy access to administrative features. Its user manual and documentation of error codes are basically Da-Da-ist fiction designed to sow confusion among franchisees and prompt calls to Taylor’s expensive authorized repair providers whenever these machines break.
The plight of franchisees wrestling with the McFlurry machine and Taylor’s monopoly on service and repair came to light after Taylor and McDonald’s teamed up to squash a would-be start up, Kytch, that made diagnostic hardware to help franchisees better manage the machines. (Wired’s Andy Greenburg wrote an article documenting that struggle and I interviewed Jeremy O’Sullivan of Kytch here.)
To help make the point that there’s nothing inherently complex or unusual about the McFlurry machines, Wiens had his staff at iFixit break one down to look at what’s inside. Check out iFixit’s “What’s Inside That McDonald’s Ice Cream Machine?” post to learn more about what they found.
In this conversation, Kyle and I talk about puzzling case of McDonald’s failure prone ice cream machines - a nation-wide problem that has even sparked the creation of a website, McBroken, that tracks McDonalds unable to serve soft ice cream in realtime. And we talk about the bigger challenges that Section 1201 creates for commercial equipment owners who are looking for affordable and convenient repair options to keep their businesses operating.
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Video Podcast and Transcript
Below, find a video of my interview with Kyle as well as the text transcript of our conversation. Access to the video interview and the transcript are reserved for premium subscribers.