Former Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini said, “Fascism should more appropriate be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”
Welcome to 21st century Amerika.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with all the computers in cars, and they allow for safety, convenience, and efficiency levels in our vehicles far beyond what we’ve been able to achieve before. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be repaired or tinkered with by the owner — it just takes a new set of skills and tools. It’s not like re-jetting a carburetor was something just anyone could do, anyway — this is really no different.
Well, it is different in one very important way: because cars can now fall under the protection of bills like the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and automakers can team up with the federal government to try and restrict what an owner can do to the car that they bought and own.
Automakers are considering cars “mobile computing devices” and as such would fall under the DMCA’s pretty draconian protections. Really —here’s how they describe their reasoning in the Auto Alliance’s (a group of carmakers including BMW Group, FCA US LLC, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes- Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Cars North America) statement against a proposed exemption to allow people to work on their own cars:
“Automobiles are inherently mobile, and increasingly they contain equipment that would commonly be considered computing devices… Many of the ECUs embodied in today’s motor vehicles are carefully calibrated to satisfy federal or state regulatory requirements with respect to emissions control, fuel economy, or vehicle safety. Allowing vehicle owners to add and remove programs at whim is highly likely to take vehicles out of compliance with these requirements, rendering the operation or re-sale of the vehicle legally problematic. The decision to employ access controls to hinder unauthorized “tinkering” with these vital computer programs is necessary in order to protect the safety and security of drivers and passengers and to reduce the level of non-compliance with regulatory standards. We urge the Copyright Office to give full consideration to the impacts on critical national energy and environmental goals, as well as motor vehicle safety, in its decision on this proposed exemption. Since the record on this proposal contains no evidence regarding its applicability to or impact on motor vehicles, cars and trucks should be specifically excluded from any exemption that is recommended in this area.”
Now, it’s not like they don’t have any points — there could be safety implications (though not likely enough to make the car any less safe than, say, a road-legal vintage car), but locking out key safety features while leaving other components open to repair or modification is certainly possible. This isn’t an all-or-none kind of situation.
This means if you want to work on your car, you’re violating the law, even if you don’t touch any of the safety or security code in the car’s computers.
The lengths automakers (and, as you’ll see, tractor and farm equipment makers) are going to justify the idea that you can’t modify a product you paid money for and own is absurd. The car makers don’t want you to be able to even look at any of the code in the vehicle you own and entrust your safety to, citing worst-case scenarios like you might try to use that code to change the odometer reading to defraud someone or you’ll use it to find ways to break into other people’s cars.
Even better, in this EFF article about the DMCA restrictions, they cite John Deere’s wildly bonkers justification for keeping people from tinkering with its products:
John Deere even argued that letting people modify car computer systems will result in them pirating music through the on-board entertainment system … (and the exemption process doesn’t authorize copyright infringement, anyway).
Right, that makes sense! What’s the best way to burn a copy of a friend’s CD? With a tractor! Or, better yet, a combine! Those things are basically just big motorized music-pirating machines that just so happen to be able to harvest millet and sorghum.
This whole thing is wrong in so many ways, and if the automakers (via government partnership) are allowed to restrict owner access to their own cars — whether they themselves tinker or repair them or not — a cascade of unfortunate effects will follow. Independent repair shops will have it especially rough, becoming vulnerable to manufacturer lawsuits if they attempt to repair a car by accessing the ‘restricted’ code or even just connecting to the ECU.
You think your repair bills are high now? Wait until there is a monopoly on auto repairs.
Carmakers Want To Use Copyright Law To Make Working On Your Car Illegal
Aftermarket companies could become illegal, since technically, even something as basic as changing the wheel size on a car can affect the ECU’s ability to compute speed and make adjustments accordingly — and a manufacturer could decide that’s tampering with the inputs to the ECU or something. Maybe that’s a stretch, but maybe not — this law could make that possible.
I’m a firm believer that if you can’t open it, you don’t really own it. I firmly believe that everyone who owns a car has the right to work on their car.
If a manufacturer wants to void a warranty, fine. That’s the risk we take. If they want to make safety and emissions modifications harder to do — but still accessible for independent repair shops to work with — okay.
But if I buy a car, I should always be free to fix, repair or modify that car, even if it’s a terrible idea that gets me 20 HP and 11 MPG. It doesn’t matter — it’s my car. Besides, how would this be enforced, anyway? If you were pulled over, could a cop plug into your OBD port and read some checksum or something to see if the car has been modified? Would used cars be checked by some agency to insure compliance? It seems like a lot of waste and expense for something that’s just feeding a potential automaker repair and aftermarket monopoly.