You Should Be Allowed To Fix McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines, Say Federal Regulators

Editors Note: According to our infallible record keeping, this is the 50,000th post published on Hackaday! We weren’t sure this was the kind of milestone that required any drawn out navel-gazing on our part, but it does seem significant enough to point out. We didn’t pick any specific post to go out in this slot, but the fact that it ended up being a story about the right to repair ice cream machines seems suitably hacky for the occasion.

The McDonald’s ice cream machine is one of the great marvels of the modern world. It’s a key part of our heavily-mechanized industrial economy, and it’s also known for breaking down as often as an old Italian automobile. It’s apparently illegal to repair the machines unless you’re doing so with the authority of Taylor, the manufacturer. However, as reported by The Verge, The FTC and DOJ may soon have something to say about that.

Things are coming to a head as the Copyright Office contemplates whether to carve out new exemptions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The legislation is widely reviled by many for making it illegal to circumvent copy protection, an act that is often required to maintain or repair certain equipment. As a result customers are often locked into paying the original manufacturer to fix things for them.

Both the FTC and DOJ have have filed a comment with the Copyright Office on the matter. The language will warm the cockles of your heart if you’re backing the right-to-repair movement.

Changes in technology and the more prevalent use of software have created fresh opportunities for manufacturers to limit Americans’ ability to repair their own products. Manufacturers of software-enabled devices and vehicles frequently use a range of restrictive practices to cut off the ability to do a “DIY” or third-party repair, such as limiting the availability of parts and tools, imposing software “locks,” such as TPMs, on equipment that prevent thirdparty repairers from accessing the product, imposing restrictions on warranties, and using product designs that make independent repairs less available.

The agencies want new exceptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA to allow repair of “industrial and commercial equipment.” That would make it legal to tinker with McDonald’s ice cream machines, whoever you are. The hope is this would occur along with a renewal of exceptions for “computer programs that control devices designed primarily for use by consumers and computer programs that control motorized land vehicles, marine vessels, and mechanized agricultural vehicles.”

Brush up on the finer details of icecreamgate in our previous coverage. This could be a grand time for change. Enough is enough— McDonald’s ice cream machines have been down for too long! Video after the break.

Thanks to [Todd Zebert] for the tip!

23 thoughts on “You Should Be Allowed To Fix McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines, Say Federal Regulators

  1. Will this DMCA exception need to be renewed every (3?) years? Or will it be permanent? Because exempting “commercial and industrial” equipment from DMCA is a huge (positive) change.

  2. Is there some reason McDonald’s isn’t using another ice cream machine? FFS they’re big enough to open their own factory to manufacture their own custom equipment if there’s no other machine on the planet they can use and service if broken.

    1. As I understand it, McDonald’s requires the use of that specific machine.

      You have to understand that McDonald’s is a frachise arrangement:

      There’s McDonald’s the company that sets the rules and says what equipment to use and how to operate the restaurant. Separate from that are local companies who purchase (or rent) the franchising rights to use the McDonald’s name.

      The local companies must follow all the franchise requirements or else they lose their franchise deal and can’t use the McDonald’s name anymore.

      One of the things that McDonald’s requires of the local franchise holders is that they use a specific machine (or machines) from a specific manufacturer for the soft serve ice cream.

      McDonald’s (the company that gives out franchise rights) requires the local franchise operators to use a machine that is known to cause problems. As a local franchise operator, you have to use that machine or else you lose your franchise rights.

      The machines cost the local franchise operators a lot of money in repairs. Since they can’t use another machine, they’d at least like to be able to have the machines fixed by local workers instead of having to call in a technician from the manufacturer.

    2. My layman’s understanding is that there’s some mutual back scratching between McDonald’s corporate and the machine manufacturer that has franchisees locked into those machines. It’s not so much that McDonald’s can’t use a different machine, it’s that they don’t want to. The law change would make it easier and cheaper for franchise owner’s to get maintain them.

      1. At this point the money McDonald’s corp loses from frustrated customers going elsewhere and bad press must be greater than anything Taylor might be giving them. It makes me think it’s executives personal backs getting scratched not McDonald’s. If so, that must be some sort of fraud that could be prosecuted if someone did the research and proved it right?

    3. It’s required by the franchise agreement. McDonald’s the corporation signed a contract with the company that was good for both parties, just not the store franchisees.

      Thing is, the same company makes the same kind of machine for most other fast food restaurants. None of the same problems.

      The machine interfaces and readouts are intentionally obfuscated to force use of a service tech

    1. Heh, the other day I wanted to look at something I “remembered” from hackaday. It was only a year or so ago but it did take me quite a few iterations on the search terms to find it, mostly because I hadn’t remembered it entirely correctly. How do you search your bookmarks?

      1. I started doing this way to late, but now when I bookmark, I try to name it in a few short terms as to the major topic, or how it’s useful to my interests. But honestly it got so out of control that I usually just come back here and search.

        Another thing I started doing for a few select items is to save the title image if I think it will trigger a memory… then I can do a reverse image search… that’s probably gonna get out of control too…

  3. These unrepairable-by-design shenanigans were always the logical end with the DMCA after companies saw how ironclad the enforcement was (remember the guy who went to jail for making copies of M$ repair discs after M$ stopped making them?).

    Now it’s illegal (or extralegal?) to fix your car, phone, tractor, ice cream machine…

    I worry how many future tinkerers and technologists have been lost to the last few decades of scaremongering.

    In my own work I have had to explain DMCA carve-outs to Engineering leadership and legal for making a homebrew ‘repair disk’ to reimage a piece of hardware that bricked itself and was no longer supported by the mfr’r. What are we doing here?

  4. “The legislation is widely reviled by many for making it illegal to circumvent copy protection, an act that is often required to maintain or repair certain equipment. ”

    Contract law achieves the same effect especially in business relationships.

  5. It’s awesome that Right to Repair is kicking in here, and I’m happy that franchisees _may_ finally have the freedom to repair their own machines. But there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye: . It’s a bit long but I found it to be worth the time – it’s a fascinating piece of investigative journalism.

    Apparently, McDonald’s machines get purposeful software DOWNGRADES. There is a close relationship between McDonalds and Taylor which is being used as an excuse to rip off McD’s franchise owners for astronomical repair costs. These very same machines, with different software, are also used by other companies including Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A; yet there are no memes about their ice cream machines, and no websites like McBroken dedicated to them.

    My concern is that franchisees’ contracts with McDonalds may render this Right to Repair victory meaningless.

  6. So we add another exemption to section 1201 and hope McDonalds doesn’t prevent it from getting renewed the next time exemptions are renewed.
    How about we just nix section 1201 all together. So what if I break your DRM as long as I don’t profit from it, or claim your copyrighted material as mine. If I do that, you have other laws to come after me with.
    Section 1201 seems to be used mostly to control products after they have already been “sold” to the consumers. Is that how it was originally intended?
    Section 1201 almost seems like it was written as a law that makes it illegal to break copyright law. Seems kind of redundant and open for abuse.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.