U.S. Copyright Office ponders exemption to let independent mechanics, DIYers keep working on their cars

U.S. Copyright Office ponders exemption to let independent mechanics, DIYers keep working on their cars

[Ed. – It’s all about the computerization — and yes, GM and John Deere are on the side of the Death Star.  Emphasis added.]

More than 300 written comments have been submitted to the federal office, which will soon decide whether to grant an exemption in copyright law that preserves the legal right of outsiders to fix or modify their vehicles. …

What’s changed over the past century is that cars aren’t just mechanical in nature anymore. Whether drivers realize it or not, today’s cars are largely controlled by dozens of small computers called electronic control units. In this copyright dust-up, automakers and equipment manufacturers have argued the software and code that run these ECUs are proprietary and protected by copyright law.

In short, they don’t want outsiders messing around with that coding, and believe unauthorized modifications could lead to malfunctions and car accidents. The Copyright Office will hold hearings on several proposed exemptions later this month, and decisions are expected sometime in June or July.

At stake is whether home mechanics can continue to fix cars in their own garages. But the possible restrictions don’t only affect car enthusiasts. More broadly, the ruling could affect whether consumers can continue to choose their own mechanics. Should the Copyright Office deny an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s Section 1201, automakers could only authorize repairs at dealerships or sell the access codes necessary to repair cars to preferred service shops. …

In arguing against an exemption, John Deere and General Motors have argued that motorists don’t necessarily buy a car; they merely buy a license to use the car for the duration of its life.

Officials from iFixit, an online, do-it-yourself repair manual for thousands of products, wrote that the manufacturers are “trying to eviscerate the notion of ownership.” In their detailed rebuttal to John Deere, they wrote, “Old MacDonald has a tractor – but he really only owns a 2,000-pound barn ornament. … Their argument runs completely at odds with an owner’s property rights. And it gives manufacturers undue control over the physical objects they sell to consumers.”

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