EPA Sides With GM In Telling Copyright Office That Copyright Should Stop You From Modifying Your Car Software

from the wrong-tool,-guys dept

As we noted earlier this year, as the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress consider the requested “exemptions” from Section 1201 of the DMCA, General Motors has come out strongly against allowing you to modify the software in the car that you (thought you) bought from the company. If you’re new to this fight, Section 1201 of the DMCA is the “anti-circumvention” clause that says that it’s copyright infringement if you “circumvent” any “technological protection method” (TPM) — even if that circumvention has absolutely nothing to do with copyright infringement. Yes, this is insane. It’s so insane that Congress even realized it would lead to ridiculous situations. But, rather than fixing the damn law, Congress instead decided to duct tape on an even more ridiculous “solution.” That is that every three years (the so-called “triennial review”), people could beg and plead with the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress to issue special “exemptions” for classes of work where Section 1201 wouldn’t apply. Yes, that’s right, you have a law, but Congress knew the law made no sense in some cases, and so it just gave the Librarian of Congress (the guy who currently can’t keep his website online) the power to anoint certain classes of technology immune from the law.

Anyway, as mentioned, General Motors and others car makers (and also tractor maker John Deere) have been lobbying against the change, arguing all sorts of damage might occur should people be able to hack their own cars legally. And, to be fair, there is a legitimate point that someone messing with their own car’s software could potentially do some damage. But, there are some pretty easy responses to that. First off, that’s not copyright’s job. If you want to ban tinkering with the software in cars, pass a damn law that is specifically about tinkering with software in cars, so that there can be a real public debate about it. Second, lots of perfectly legal tinkering with the mechanical parts of automobiles can also lead to dangers on the road, but we don’t ban it because people are allowed to tinker with things they own.

Either way, the Copyright Office reached out to the EPA about this issue, and in a just published letter (even though it was sent months ago), it’s revealed that the EPA is asking for the exemption to be denied because it’s “concerned” that these exemptions would “slow or reverse gains made under the Clean Air Act.” It also argues that allowing the right to modify your own software would “hinder its ability to enforce… tampering prohibition[s]” that are in existing law already:

EPA is also concerned that the exemptions would hinder its ability to enforce the tampering prohibition. Under section 203(a), the Agency has taken enforcement action against third-party vendors who sell or install equipment that can “bypass, defeat, or render inoperative” software designed to enable vehicles to comply with CFAA regulations. EPA can curb this practice more effectively if circumventing TPMs remains prohibited under the DMCA

First of all, this shows that there’s already another law in place for dealing with people who are doing things that will impact the environment. Second, who cares if it makes the EPA’s job easier, that’s not the role of copyright. That the EPA would so casually argue that it’s okay for it to be abusing copyright law, just because it makes the EPA’s job easier is patently ridiculous.

Following that, the EPA then mocks the idea that anyone would have a legitimate reason to tinker with the software in their own cars:

The Agency also questions whether there is a real need for the exemptions. Car makers are already required to provide access for lawful diagnosis and repair. In EPA’s view, whether or not they are designed for this purpose, the TPMs prevent unlawful tampering of important motor vehicle software.

Again, that’s not the job of copyright, and supporting the abuse of copyright for this purpose is ridiculous. Furthermore, now that we’re living in an age of connected cars, where we’re already discovering that car software is a security nightmare it’s actually more important than ever that people be able to tinker with the software in their cars, to probe for security weaknesses and to improve that software where possible. The EPA has every right to go after those who do so in a manner that violates environmental laws, but it shouldn’t support abusing copyright law just because it makes the EPA’s job easier. And, it shouldn’t just assume that there are no legitimate reasons for wanting to modify the software in your car just because EPA staffers are too simple-minded to understand what those reasons might be.

Whatever you might think of the EPA and its mission, the idea that it would advocate abusing copyright laws is a disgrace.

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Comments on “EPA Sides With GM In Telling Copyright Office That Copyright Should Stop You From Modifying Your Car Software”

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83 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

lots of perfectly legal tinkering with the mechanical parts of automobiles can also lead to dangers on the road, but we don’t ban it because people are allowed to tinker with things they own.

This cannot be emphasized enough. Thinkering with mechanical parts can do a whole world more damage to the environment than anything else. Many people here remove pollution control mechanisms from their trucks because it decreases the consumption by 3-4%. You stop it by having vehicles undergo obligatory auditing or something but not by preventing people to mess with what they own. This is specially true when you are dealing with agriculture equipment where a lot of farmers do their own maintenance and need access to the software because they wouldn’t have the funds to pay for maintenance from the company itself.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They don’t audit the changes directly anyway, they audit the output. They check for emissions in this case. Whether it’s hardware or software, you can just put a switch in to change your emissions just for the audit… Ford calls it a “DPF Cleaning cycle” when they dump all the pollution all at once after the audit time expires. Stinks up your whole truck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

that is to only check with compliance on emissions. What happens when they need to start checking cars that can help break in emergencies, slow you down when you are being a totes dick, and when they start driving themselves?

This post 9/11 Government is using a manufactured fear of a squeaky mouse to drive tyrannical laws into force. You can bet the automakers will jump on this band wagon and try to make it clear that if we do not put up a pseudo security wall to stop people from modding their cars then terrorists win!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Am I reading this correctly?

For the emissions check you first put the vehicle on a cleaning cycle because if you don’t if fails the emissions check?

So the vehicle has a built in mechanism to game the emissions check which set on the presumption that the sampling it takes is the vehicle’s typical emissions.

Way to destroy the atmosphere for the rest of us, Ford.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Am I reading this correctly?

So the vehicle has a built in mechanism to game the emissions check which set on the presumption that the sampling it takes is the vehicle’s typical emissions.

Way to destroy the atmosphere for the rest of us, Ford.

Sounds more like just how diesel engines are and nothing specific to Ford.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_particulate_filter#Regeneration

JS says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, at least in CA, as of 2013 new smog testing policies enacted under the STAR program have removed the requirement for a “tailpipe” test if your vehicle is later than year 2000 and you have a compatible ODBII computer.

I found this out recently when my car failed the smog check because I had just replaced the battery. Apparently that wiped the memory of the ODBII computer and it registered as “Not Ready”. Nothing to do with emissions.

If I were to drive it around for months I probably wouldn’t have to do anything special, but because I need to get it retested fairly soon it is recommended to perform a “Drive Cycle”. For my car, among other strange things, you have to drive between 50 and 60 mph for 20 minutes without touching the brakes and then coast to a stop also without touching the brakes. At the very end you can use the emergency brake. And I won’t know if the process fixed the problem until I get another smog check. Next time I am definitely going somewhere that has free retesting.

So, since my car is failing the smog check, not due to emissions but because of an on board computer, hacking the ODBII seems quite reasonable to me.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because the DMCA makes no sense, that’s how.

TPMs are hacking devices designed to take control of your computer (or computerized devices, such as your car) out of your hands. As such, they should be illegal. Full stop. No “unless,” no “except,” no compromising on this point. The fact that we are even debating whether it should be OK to mess with the TPM that someone installed or not is sheer insanity.

This is why we need to repeal the DMCA, folks.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In theory, TPMs are a good idea. The TPM stores a digital signature, and verifies that the code that you’re running has been signed by that signature. That signed code inspects and loads the operating system, which inspects and loads the other software. In theory, this creates a chain of trusted software, so that, if malware does appear on your machine, you know where to look for it (in any un-signed code), because you know what code is genuine. This can work to secure any operating system.

It only becomes a problem when the manufacturer of the TPM decides that the consumers shouldn’t be able to determine what constitutes acceptable software.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It only becomes a problem when the manufacturer of the TPM decides that the consumers shouldn’t be able to determine what constitutes acceptable software.

Or when the software mfgr. is forced by law (or National Security Letters, or Executive Orders, …) to collude with elements of a fascistic police state (NSA/FBI/CIA/DEA/…), or with bought by special interests (MafiAA) laws like interminable copyright.

Oh look, both of those are already happening! I’m glad I’m not in the USA. Have a lovely revolution (sooner rather than later, preferably)!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The problem with these trusted software chains is that it is someone else deciding who I trust on my behalf without my say in the matter. Often implementing technological measures to remove me entirely from the circle of trust leaving just them and their cronies. (Typically based on how it benefits them)

Microsoft being the issuing party for UEFI secure boot keys for example. Yeah Microsoft and trust, right!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

What might that “circumvention protection measure” look like?

What happens when an OS company (MS) incorporates a feature (shift key) that over rides a software based circumvention protection measure (autorun) and the company circumvented gets its panties in a twist and then sues a college student because he discussed said OS feature in his thesis?

Laughter ensues.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Surely, that’s one of the exemptions.

The exemptions are only granted when requested. As far as I know, no computer manufacturer has put a protection measure in place to prevent removal or overwriting of the operating system, so nobody has had any reason to ask for an exemption. So no, I don’t think there’s an exemption for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

As far as I know, no computer manufacturer has put a protection measure in place to prevent removal or overwriting of the operating system,

Windows running on non X86 devices already has a locked UEFI boot which is set up so that it cannot be disabled, and so you cannot boot a different operating system. Also phones can come locked, and almost all games consoles are locked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only read the headline, this is obvious. But you're not looking at it right: other concerns trump copyright! Aren't you happy copyright isn't TOPS in all?

Machinery is not like your little toy computers, kids. This is another area where your rights, even if real, are simply not the sole basis for decision. There’s legal liability besides, which even if you categorically waive against GM for mechanical damage your tweaks caused, you’ve not insured others against for when, not if, tweaks cause the fly-by-wire system to go full throttle and endanger others.

It’s not the 20th century any more, you child-geezers. You’ll be increasingly hampered by corporations and prevented from doing harm. Enjoy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only read the headline, this is obvious. But you're not looking at it right: other concerns trump copyright! Aren't you happy copyright isn't TOPS in all?

Machinery is not like your little toy computers, kids. This is another area where your rights, even if real, are simply not the sole basis for decision. There’s legal liability besides, which even if you categorically waive against GM for mechanical damage your tweaks caused, you’ve not insured others against for when, not if, tweaks cause the fly-by-wire system to go full throttle and endanger others.

It’s not the 20th century any more, you child-geezers. You’ll be increasingly hampered by corporations and prevented from doing harm. Enjoy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Only read the headline, this is obvious. But you're not looking at it right: other concerns trump copyright! Aren't you happy copyright isn't TOPS in all?

that brings up a question (and to the entire article actually) does that mean eventually, possibly in the near future, if say your computer hard drive goes out, you cannot switch it out because dmca laws? what about if you want to switch from windows to linux? what about people with linux that has to use a windows vm to play a lot of games?

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Only read the headline, this is obvious. But you're not looking at it right: other concerns trump copyright! Aren't you happy copyright isn't TOPS in all?

This already happened with UEFI. Linux distributions had to generate their own secure bootloaders to deal with this issue.

Some hardware, like the Surface RT machines, block Linux entirely.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: My, what a compliant little consumer you are. Such a cutie!

This is another area where your rights, even if real, are simply not the sole basis for decision. There’s legal liability besides, which even if you categorically waive against GM for mechanical damage your tweaks caused, you’ve not insured others against for when, not if, tweaks cause the fly-by-wire system to go full throttle and endanger others.

Tell that to the banksters running amok on the Wall Streets of the world, robbing anyone they can to save their butts from their own greed. Bite me, slave. You go ahead and serve your master, but don’t try to wrap those chains of yours around me too. Either I control what I own, or I don’t own it. If I don’t own it, it’s not really mine and isn’t welcome in my life. My life is precious and so is your own if you had the sense to realize it. I’m sad that you don’t.

It’s not the 20th century any more, you child-geezers. You’ll be increasingly hampered by corporations and prevented from doing harm. Enjoy.

Yeah, and ever since the Magna Carta, it hasn’t been theirs, and they’re not going to get that back no matter how hard they try. Feudalism is dead and gone and it matters not whether you or they like it or not.

Hey kid, remember Charlton Heston? There’s not a lot I agreed with him on, but I know of at least one: “From my cold, dead hands!”

Now, you hustle on down to Walmart and enrich your corporate overlord royalty, while you have time. There’s a revolution on the way, so hurry!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: to be fair....

There are a lot of laws that make it illegal to make certain modifications to your car. Just a few but window tint cannot be to dark, exhaust and radio cannot exceed certain levels, etc. Now enforcement is a whole other issue.

Copyright should have no part in this. the EPA should have no part in it other than it was lobbied to.

When I get my tax return I plan on purchasing an older vehicle that I can work on myself. I had a 1972 pickup that I could fix everything on that thing. My wife’s 2001 suv had to be taken into the shop just to do basic maintenance like brake work (most brake work will mean you need to bleed the brakes and a computer had to be connected to the car to do so). I’m tired of paying out the ass for simple fixes that I can do for a lot less and faster.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: to be fair....

My wife’s 2001 suv had to be taken into the shop just to do basic maintenance like brake work (most brake work will mean you need to bleed the brakes and a computer had to be connected to the car to do so). I’m tired of paying out the ass for simple fixes that I can do for a lot less and faster.

This.

I suspect this is little more than a money grab by the dealers/car companies. I took one of my cars over to a repair shop for an issue I was having. My other car had the same issue at one point (which needed to be fixed for safety reasons,) and the mechanic was able to fix it in about 20 minutes and charged me about $100 for parts and labor. The other car required about 3 hours of work, and the mechanic said it would be around $500 for parts and labor. The only difference, the car company decided to put a computer into the mix, that required a special tool to work with, and failure to use that tool would result in a broken car. And the mechanic complained that the only reason for this was so that you’d be forced to take the car to the dealer to get the problem fixed instead of fixing it yourself or taking it to a mechanic (but the mechanics usually have the tool anyway.) He said that the previous year’s model didn’t have this feature, and it wasn’t mechanically required and the computer wasn’t added for safety or efficiency (after all, the part was failing even with the computer there, and the computer didn’t even tell me it was breaking…I figured it out because the car was doing the same thing my other car did before the part failed.)

I called the dealer, and they told me it would be a minimum of $700, but probably closer to $1000, and then proceeded to try to find everything possible wrong with the car so they could add more charges…including bad tires which had just been replaced a couple weeks beforehand (and both my mechanic and the company I bought the tires from checked them out and found no issue with them.) When they told me it would be close to a sixth of the original cost of the vehicle (that was less than six years old) to fix everything, I thanked them for their time and left without getting anything repaired.

The last time I took my car to the dealer, they installed a part incorrectly (a towing break controller, which is kinda a big thing to do right,) charged me $500, and then I had to take the part out, rewire it so that it was installed correctly, and had to pay for the parts to fix it. Luckily I had my mechanic check it over to make sure it was installed correctly and safe.

I took the car back to the mechanic I trusted, paid the $500, and the car was fixed…and then vowed never to buy anything from that manufacturer ever again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Clean air act?

In my area that inspection is done at time of registration. If you fail you don’t get re-registered until you repair and pass inspection again, or have your auto examined for an exemption.

The key thing in my area is that this inspection only applies to several counties, not the whole state. Other areas of the US are the same way, or have different inspection requirements. So there are autos on the road in the US that are perfectly legal even though their emissions would not pass any inspection because they are registered in an area that has no inspection requirement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If I replace the software included in my car with my own creation, what laws would I be breaking.

Copyright of the hardware design, as to make the software work properly you need the hardware design details.

While the above should be sarcasm, the car manufacturers will use any excuse to drag someone into court for modifying the car they have licensed from them.

DannyB (profile) says:

All sorts of damage could occur

Not only could all sorts of damage occur if people make unauthorized modifications to their cars, but . . .

all sorts of damage could occur if people make unauthorized modifications to their toasters.

Their clothes dryers.

And back in the day, you weren’t supposed to open that 25 inch console television set either. You remember: “No User Serviceable Parts Inside.” There was danger from the 25,000 volts used for the big CRT. There was danger of implosion.

Maybe Congress needs to pass a law that nobody should be allowed to modify anything. For their safety.

And all of this mischief starts with those pesky kids who have unbound curiosity to understand how things work. Let’s put a stop to that also.

We’ll all be a lot safer.

If they had a chemistry set (thank goodness there are no more of those) they might learn to become terrorists.

If they learn programming at a young age, they might become hackers who cost Hollywood TRILLIONS of dollars per day.

David says:

Re: All sorts of damage could occur

And back in the day, you weren’t supposed to open that 25 inch console television set either. You remember: “No User Serviceable Parts Inside.” There was danger from the 25,000 volts used for the big CRT. There was danger of implosion.

Well, those 25kV TVs tended to have really good circuit diagrams and servicing instructions in a side satchel. They may not have been “user serviceable” but they sure as heck were “serviceable”, and proudly so.

These days? Bah.

Anonymous Coward says:

The other day I was in a friend’s car as he was trying to enter an address in his on-board navigation system. He commented at how annoying it was and that it didn’t have up-to-date addresses.
Isn’t this an anti-trust issue? If an OS company (Microsoft) can’t force customers to use a specific web browser (IE), how can car manufacturers force customers to use a specific navigation software?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Probably depends on the car. I know my new Mazda actually has an API you can program your own apps for. http://www.opencar.com/

Of course this means I can break the law by enabling video support while driving, but it’s on me and the App wouldn’t be approved for general release.

Personally though, I would just use your smartphone with Google Maps, MapQuest, or whatever software you prefer, it will usually get updates for the app and maps and typically is a lot better.

ECA (profile) says:

REPEAT...

the #1 problem here, is copyrights..
WHO sets the abilities and HOW my car drives..
They are customizing things to the point that your CAR isnt YOUR CAR..modding and adjusting and anything TECH is not giving the consumer Access to do anything to these cars..

So, who is responsible FOR ITS DRIVING? not you.
Since you have no or little responsibility to HOW the car drives…WHO gets the ticket? WHO get to goto jail if it kills someone?

NOT YOU..

If they want to OWN all of the control of the car…arnt the makers responsible for its working?
This could mean they are responsible for the INSURANCE ALSO…as you are no longer the driver.

I would LOVE this..for a few good reasons..
UPDATES?? they find a flaw in the coding, and you dont have access to UPDATE IT..who is responsible?
The Computer FAILS and you are stranded…who is responsible?
There are to many things about driving, that makes the CAR responsible, and NOT the driver..
====================
I posted this before..and will again..

I will add something here also..
====================

YOU COULD make a small computer to monitor and make your car work, BEST…the problem is restrictions and limits Put in the computers to cause your car NOT to do what you want.
Insted of changing a few hardware PARTS, they do much of it in the computer NOW..

And for all of this, Every car type has a CUSTOM, control, and a Custom COST..
WHY in hell do we need a $50 computer with software that cost $200 in our cars??
IT shouldnt be HARD to make a computer interface that would PLUG into any car, and monitor/control HOW the car works to the BEST it can..
WE USED to do all this mechanically, with a few adjustments for altitude and seasons..

Anonymous Coward says:

I used to trade in my vehicles every five years or so. I stopped doing that when they became too computerized. That was 17 years ago. I’d love a new truck but I’m not willing to compromise. Most people aren’t that strong. Stop giving in and maybe manufacturers will get the message someday. Things continue to get worse because idiots keep paying for it. Break the cycle or shut the hell up…

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Things continue to get worse because idiots keep paying for it. Break the cycle or shut the hell up…

There’s a lot more idiots out there than knowledgeable thinking people. This is the same problem that democracy has. We get what they want, no matter how repellent or odious. We’re hostages to all their vices. HRC/Cruz/Jeb/Trump, Walmart, Wall St., Democrat Hawks/Neocons/AIPAC, …

The more I look at it, the less I believe we ever escaped feudalism, or even the Roman Empire. “Rome is the mob!” — Gladiator.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Feudalism escape velocity.

Not quite. We just changed the titles of our lords.

The thing is, during the feudal ages everyone had a severe labor shortage. Every little bastard and whore-spawn was an asset who could man the walls or work the fields or clear the overgrowth or feed the livestock or… if nothing else, they could make more laborers.

The lords had clear cause to take care of them. (Sometimes they failed at that — badly — but the value of the salt-of-the-earth folk was unquestioned.)

People are still useful in huge ways, but we don’t recognize it so clearly since industrialization.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Feudalism escape velocity.

The thing is, during the feudal ages everyone had a severe labor shortage.

I’m not sure that was true until the bubonic plague savaged western Europe’s population. Major labor shortage, giving workers much more power and mobility than they’d had, helping lead to the downfall of the feudal system.

Germs, Genes, and Civilization – fascinating book.

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