According to GM, Ford, and a slew of other American car companies which we will collectively refer to as Big Auto, you should not be allowed to tinker with your own car. Why? Because cars have become such advanced pieces of computing wizardry that they can be copyright protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act from any but “authorized” manipulation:
It’s called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It’s been around since 2000 and started as anti-Internet piracy legislation. But automakers want to use it to try and make working on your own car illegal. Yes, illegal. The general premise is that unlike cars of the past, today’s vehicles are so advanced and use such a large amount of software and coding in their general makeup, altering said code could be dangerous and possibly even malicious.
Listing the vehicle as a “mobile computing device,” the law would hypothetically protect automakers from pesky owners looking to alter any sort of technology in the vehicle that relates to the onboard computer. Flashing your ECU would be a big no no, which could also lead to all sorts of problems for aftermarket shops.
A “mobile computing device”? Oh my. It should also be of great interest that the one company which might have some legitimate claim to a fully computerized car—Tesla Motors—wants no part of this legislation. Tesla has also released all of their patents into the creative commons, so it doesn’t come as that much of a surprise that they would reject applying the DMCA in this way.
But guess which company is really jazzed about the DMCA ruling: John Deere. That’s right. The tractor company. And you know what they are most concerned about? That if people tampered with the computer inside a John Deere tractor, they might be able to pirate music. I’m as incredulous as you are. Is this an Onion article?
Big Auto, in fact “Big” Anything, has always been resistant to change. I get that. They want to protect their assets. But this is ridiculous and counter-productive. The people in this country most likely to tinker with their own cars are those who are most enthusiastic about cars. If American automakers forbid them from exercising ownership over property they purchased, I imagine they will just purchase someone else’s product. I’m sure that will do wonders for the already struggling American auto industry.