John Deere, General Motors, and other automotive manufacturers have submitted comments to the US Copyright Office asserting that manufacturers still own connected vehicles even after purchase, and that the purchaser is only licensing the product. The Copyright Office plans to hold a hearing on the issue, and will decide in June whether the purchasers of connected vehicles actually own the vehicles they have purchased, or whether those vehicles are still the property of the manufacturer.
The vehicle manufacturers are claiming that since they own the software programming that runs a vehicle, they also own the machine running on that programming. If the Copyright Office decides in the manufacturers’ favor, then it would violate copyright law for a connected vehicle owner to modify the vehicle’s programming, even to make a repair. The owner would have to take it back to the manufacturer to get it repaired instead. Cars, trucks, and tractors now come with so much software that manufacturers are claiming it would be unsafe for customers to tinker with them. For instance, a car owner making a coding change could accidentally disable their brakes or turn signals.
The manufacturers are making their claim to ownership under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which governs copyright law on the internet. In 2010 Apple tried to claim that jailbreaking an iPhone was illegal under the act, saying that the iOS license forbids modifying its software. The Copyright Office rejected that claim and granted an exemption for unlocking mobile phones. That exemption was not renewed in 2012 though, and Congress had to pass a bill to reinstate it in 2014. In this case, the government decided that the manufacturer doesn’t have control over the hardware device even if it owns the license to the software running the device. That might bode well for vehicle owners who want to self-repair, but the jailbreaking case shows what a long convoluted legal battle might be underway to decide who actually owns a connected vehicle.
Federal and state governments are taking action, recognizing that digital copyright law and traditional notions of ownership could be in conflict. Congress will introduce a bill to reform the DCMA this week; and New York and Minnesota have also introduced bills to allow consumers the right to make repairs to their electronic items and access data necessary to make those repairs.
Source: Business Intelligence / Wired