Is It Possible Repairing or Modifying Cars Violates Copyright?
But the consequences may actually be worse than that. There may be legal ramifications.
A privacy group and nonprofit watchdog, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is now cautioning mechanics and home garage tinkerers that there’s a chance modifying cars violates copyright, which could put a stop to unauthorized work under the hood.
Could the US Government Rule That Modifying Cars Violates Copyright?
The concern behind the EFF’s warning is that modifying code in the central computer running a vehicle’s systems without manufacturer approval could violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The law, enacted in 1996, protects intellectual property against modifications, such as homebrew alterations on video game consoles.
How is hacking into a phone or game console the same as working on a car? Electronics run on electronic control units (ECUs), which now pervade cars and run everything from the engine to the brakes and steering. Modifying ECUs is typically considered a violation of the DMCA.
Luckily, EFF isn’t discouraging the act of car customization, but in fact petitioning the US Copyright Office to exempt home mechanics and hobbyists from liability for engaging “in a decades-old tradition of mechanical curiosity and self-reliance.” The difference with “official” mods like SEMA is these garages partner with automakers to gain authorized access to the codes.
“The idea of ownership, in a way, is under threat when the law prevents you from altering a product in any way,” said EFF staff attorney Kit Walsh.
So far no automaker has taken such a situation to court, but with increased digitization of vehicles and even self-driving cars on the way, it could become a possibility–especially if manufacturers plan to sell software upgrades for vehicles. The ruling could control where car owners are allowed to go for repairs.
Currently, the industry is waiting on a ruling after the court considers exemptions, which is expected around mid-2015. In the meantime, our concept of car ownership is being changed: perhaps vehicles are becoming mobile computers operated by people who pay for the ability to use them.
- Tim ShultsContributor
Tim Shults is the President of the Shults Auto Group. In his spare time he likes to play golf and spend time with his four daughters. Shults Auto Group is the largest auto group in the Southern tier. With over 400 employees, Shults Auto Group has 11 different dealerships carrying 15 different makes and 2 strictly used car stores, Shults Toyota, Ed Shults Chevrolet Cadillac, Shults Chevrolet of Westfield, Edmond Chevrolet Buick GMC, Ed Shults Ford Lincoln of Jamestown, Kia of Jamestown, Ed Shults Subaru of Warren, Shults Hyundai, Ed Shults Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Warren, Shults Resale, Shults Resale Olean, and Shults Nissan.