Update: Is Tinkering With Car Radios Legal?

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Industry members Wednesday were still trying to wade through the legal implications of the ruling Tuesday by the Copyright Office that failed to exempt “third parties” such as car stereo dealers from copyright prosecution if they work on a car’s infotainment system.

The Copyright Office followed the wishes of car makers that claim 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

But some industry members suggested that car audio products are not subject to copyright issues because they don’t modify the car’s data bus information, they only “read it.”

JL Audio VP Marketing Manville Smith commented on CEoutlook that, “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.”

Steve Witt, President of American Road Products said, “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).”

Sony said it is still reviewing the matter and Pioneer and Alpine had no comment.

AAMP of America’s Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Weisberg said,  “You have a car park out there where the average vehicle is 11 years old, and everyone should have the opportunity to make their vehicle safer.  Vehicle owners as a whole, don’t have the ability to put these safety products in their car, and they need help from the expert installers, that’s what our industry provides.”

The Consumer Electronics Association is currently speaking with the Copyright Office to get more clarification on the matter and is still “parsing through it.”   Senior VP of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Michael Petricone Petricone said, “We strongly believe in the right of drivers to access and repair the vehicles they own,”

At issue is a ruling by the US Copyright Office Tuesday which exempted car owners who work on their own cars from being liable for violating copyright laws. But the ruling did not exempt “third parties” such as retailers or repair shops that may work on a car on behalf of the owner.

Every three years the Copyright Office reviews the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to determine exemptions from the law, which is a 1998 copyright law that can apply to computers, smartphones, video games and cars. It helps determine 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.

Sarang Damle, Deputy General Counsel of the Copyright Office told us his office is not commenting any further on the ruling described here.

SEMA emailed us a statement saying, ” SEMA welcomes the exemption granted by the Copyright Office insofar as it highlights the right of consumers to undertake modification activities without fear of prosecution under the DMCA.  However, SEMA maintains its position that the protections of existing law are broader with regard to manufacturers and installers and that an exemption from the DCMA is not required.”


Source: CEoutlook

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  1. I certainly agree with Manville about how our enhancements only “read” the code and what we as enhancement specialist do is to operate within the parameters of that software program and more or less do a soft update on the program in order to accept that which is being introduced into the vehicle.
    Remember a few months back when those guys actually hacked into the Jeep’s operating systems and could remotely take over control of integral systems such as brakes, lighting and such? It got extensive coverage by a number of news organizations as I recall. Anyway, the portal they used to gain entrance into the software hierarchy and was able to actually replace and rewrite code was thru the infotainment portal. Now that is the systems our enhancements operate within and I can see manufactures, in the guise of safety and protection, of that vehicle’s software programs that controls the operation lock down that portal where nothing can be updated or enhanced. Something to keep your eye on because it’s coming thru the back door and not the front. That’s what I’m thinking anyway.

  2. I have been in talks with SEMA via email on this topic.. And I can see how the older rules or laws do allow for installers and shop owners to carry on and not worry with this due to old rulings etc as they mentioned. “SEMA maintains its position that the protections of existing law are broader with regard to manufacturers and installers and that an exemption from the DCMA is not required.” – SEMA
    So as I mentioned to them we can assume this is adequate but ive learned over the years the worst thing you can do is assume… I feel like that answer is like saying well the constitution says we have the right to bear arms so don’t worry about the current gun control laws they speak of..

    Just my ten cents,
    Erik Harbour

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