You may recall that there has been a struggle among those of us that like to work on our own cars. A struggle against something called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which suggested that you don’t really own the software that runs your car, hence, you can’t touch it. Happily, that’s not going to happen, at least not for two years.
Thanks to the hard work and considerable efforts from the website iFixit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations, the U.S. Copyright Office has seen reason and decided that if you own your car, you should absolutely have the right to inspect, modify, and even hack the software that makes the whole thing work.
The Copyright Office has issued several exemptions to the DMCA that should cover most of what people who work on their cars want. You still can’t do things that would be illegal otherwise, like disabling your emission control systems or anything like that, but that’s been the case since we’ve had any sort of emission laws.
Here’s the exemptions, courtesy of the Government Publishing Office’s Federal Register:
Proposed Class 21: This proposed class would allow circumvention of TPMs protecting computer programs that control the functioning of a motorized land vehicle, including personal automobiles, commercial motor vehicles, and agricultural machinery, for purposes of lawful diagnosis and repair, or aftermarket personalization, modification, or other improvement. Under the exemption as proposed, circumvention would be allowed when undertaken by or on behalf of the lawful owner of the vehicle.
That’s the main one, and it pretty much says you can, legally, work on your own car, including working with and modifying, repairing, or whatever the software that controls your car and its systems.
You still can’t mess with the infotainment system, because they’re still concerned that you’ll somehow decide your car is the best way to pirate DVDs of Fast and Furious.
There is also a separate exemption for investigating your car’s security and data security systems:
Proposed Class 25: This proposed class would allow researchers to circumvent access controls in relation to computer programs, databases, and devices for purposes of good-faith testing, identifying, disclosing, and fixing of malfunctions, security flaws, or vulnerabilities.
As you can tell by the wording, this is mostly intended for security researchers, who will need to dig into car’s software and security protocols to discover where vulnerabilities are.
There’s also a related exemption for security researchers to work with cars they don’t actually own:
Proposed Class 22: This proposed class would allow circumvention of TPMs protecting computer programs that control the functioning of a motorized land vehicle for the purpose of researching the security or safety of such vehicles. Under the exemption as proposed, circumvention would be allowed when undertaken by or on behalf of the lawful owner of the vehicle.
As it stands now, these exemptions are only good for three years, which they started counting a year ago, so, really two years. By 2018 the discussion will start up all over again, but the good news is that groups like the EFF are already talking to the Copyright Office to see about making such exemptions permanent.
This is important. If we can’t work on our own cars legally, automakers have an effective monopoly on service and parts, and monopolies very rarely end up making life better for consumers. Plus, it kills a lot of the fun out of car ownership if you can’t tinker.
None of us want to live in a world of sealed hoods and jail time for trying out some mods. These exemptions are a great start, but we need to remain vigilant.