Hearings began this week on the right of consumers (and retailers) to work on cars.
The hearings will be held through Wednesday by the Copyright Office at UCLA and then again next week in Washington, with a ruling expected to follow in late September or October.
At issue is whether the software code in the car falls under the protection of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as 12 car makers claim it should. The automakers argue that consumers should not tamper with the software code in their car and should be restricted in working on their cars, as should retailers, by extension.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and SEMA have submitted comments arguing against the car companies’ claims and in favor of the aftermarket’s right to access software in cars.
A lawyer representing the CEA told us that what applies to consumers, applies to retailers. Attorney Robert Schwartz of Constantine Cannon said, “If a consumer has a right to replace a component in her own car or gain access to a system then the law also provides that somebody should be able to assist the consumer in carrying out a procedure that the consumer can do herself.”
If the Library of Congress, which ultimately decides the question after the Copyright Office gives its recommendation, rules against car software being an exemption under digital copyright law, here’s what will happen. Schwartz said, “People would likely continue to work on their cars and seek assistance to do so. Some service providers might rely on the general belief that this activity is legal even without an exemption. Some might be deterred because copyright damages can be very very high.”
So presumably if a car maker sued a consumer for working on his car, a court would then rule on it, and if it ruled against the car company, that would become precedent for the next case.
Directed President Tarek Kutrieh said “Every year there is something new ranging from software to now proposed patent infringements. Having a passion to modify your vehicle is not a crime. We need to all remind our consumers of the Magnuson-Moss Act, and aggressively support lobbying initiatives by CEA and SEMA to ensure we keep our rights.”
The Consumer Electronics Association submitted a comment to the Copyright Office stating, “CEA members invested in the aftermarket for vehicular technology development, repair, replacement, and safety technology products and services have a vital concern in those markets being free of artificial constraints on entry and competition. With more than 250,000,000 registered vehicles on the road today in the United States, it is essential that CEA member companies have access to vehicle software in order to develop and make available innovative solutions that support safe driving. Indeed, technology innovations developed in the aftermarket have in many cases resulted in significantly reducing driver fatalities.”
At the hearings over the next two weeks, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) plans to testify that legal restrictions on tinkering with the software in your car are preventing people and businesses from repairing and customizing vehicles as well as conducting needed security and safety research. The EFF will tell the Copyright Office that “restricting access to onboard computers in cars, trucks, and tractors drives up costs for vehicle owners and stifles innovation,” it said.
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Photo via Installernet.com