Ruling Leaves 12V Industry in Limbo?

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car audio

The U.S. Copyright Office Tuesday issued a ruling that appears to leave car audio and auto repair shops in limbo.

The Office ruled favorably for car owners, that they may modify their cars without fear of prosecution under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.   But it failed to provide the same exemption to  retailers and repair shops (third parties) who diagnose, repair or modify a vehicle on behalf of the vehicle owner.

The Copyright Office concluded that exempting third parties so they can modify cars, requires a legislative amendment by Congress.

To make matters worse, it said that access to a vehicle’s  entertainment or telematics system was also excluded from the exemption, according to SEMA.

To explain; every three years the Copyright Office reviews the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to determine what is exempt from it.  It’s a 1998 copyright law that can apply to  computers, smartphones, video games and cars and the fine line between hardware and software.

This year, prior to the ruling, a dozen automakers argued that the software code in cars falls under the protection of the DMCA.  They claimed that consumers should not tamper with the software code in their cars and should be restricted in working on their cars, as should retailers, by extension.

So again, the ruling Tuesday retains the right of consumers to work on cars, but it seems to leave car audio retailers in limbo.

We’ll bring you more information on the ruling as we learn more.

This is what the Copyright Office said about NOT exempting retailers from prosecution for copyright infringement:

“Accordingly, the recommended exemption excludes computer programs in ECUs that are chiefly designed to operate vehicle entertainment and telematics systems due to insufficient evidence
demonstrating a need to access such ECUs, and out of concern that such circumvention might enable unauthorized access to creative or proprietary content.  The exemption also excludes circumvention  “on behalf of” vehicle owners, as a broader exception allowing third parties to engage in circumvention activities on behalf of others is in tension with the anti-trafficking provisions of section 1201(a)(2) and (b).”
 You can read the full ruling here (and see pp. 42-43 for third party clauses).
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  1. OEM interfaces that connect to amp outputs do not modify any software or vehicle data. I would be confident that they are not infringing on anything.

    1. The essence of this ruling is not intended to harm the aftermarket. Manville is correct, OEM audio, connectivity, VSS, CAN, JBUS etc interfaces do not modify any vehicle specific software as described in the DMCA. We are simply “reading” the software code to enable safety and entertainment enhancements for customers (passenger car vehicles or commercial fleet vehicles).

  2. So which 12 Automakers made the DMCA argument against our industry livelihood…?
    I’d like to tell them next week @ SEMA 2015 “Thanks for fˆ#*ing us over your fears and the creativity of your already rich lawyers!”
    They were actually quite smart in going after the DMCA together in such a big group, so we can’t realistically expect to try and boycott those car brands… Which vehicles would there be to modify afterwards? (very few)
    I kind of foresee this could mean an uphill trend to try and sell Smartphone/Tablet-centric solutions, completely bypassing the OEM head unit (hence their ECUs) in favor of direct Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Mirrorlink, etc. wireless connectivity to Amps, then Speakers and Sub(s), in order to actually get good Audio.
    I also wonder if this will mean the end of aftermarket HUs…? How about all the DSP units to sum/equalize/level the OEM signals? (like JL Audio’s new products)

  3. Is it possible that these folks at the copyrights office did not watch the congressional hearings on CSPAN reviewing the VW emission control software fraud last week. It seems that VW claims exceptionally clean diesel emissions. BUT the VW diesel cars did not even come close to meeting the claim. Rather than fixing the cars or retracting the claim, engineers at VW wrote software code which produced FALSE results for emission output when the VW cars were on a dyno being tested for emissions.

    If car makers can deliberately perpetrate fraud on consumers and car dealers and car repair shops it seems to me that we ought to be able to have some defense or recourse. If we find the problem can we correct it…? Or do we have to rely on the “highly regulated” auto makers for their honesty and expertise in looking after us…?

    We gotta pay attention to this issue. The aftermarket will continue to have fewer and fewer hardware sales option for cars & trucks. It will be a “software programming” future for aftermarket retailers. If this activity is outlawed, I contend the aftermarket retailer’s future may be severely restricted.

    Ray Windsor

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