Copyright Boss: 'It's Great Mechanics Now Need To Know About Copyright'

from the no,-actually,-it's-not dept

The Copyright Office continues to show that it is completely out of touch and tone deaf to the mess that copyright laws create today. We've talked a few times about how abuses of copyright law have created messes for industries that you might think would never have to deal with copyright on a regular basis. Take, for example, mechanics. What does repairing your car have to do with copyrights? In the past, absolutely nothing. More recently, however, it's been a huge deal. That's because automakers have used copyright to lock up diagnostic codes and information concerning onboard computers. The end result is that car owners are often forced to go to dealers (who are expensive) over independent car repair shops. Independent repair shops who circumvent the digital locks on car computers may be found to be violating the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause. As we've noted, this seems like a clear abuse of the DMCA, as it was clearly not designed for such a purpose. Attempts to fix this with "right to repair" legislation have mostly gone nowhere (automakers are powerful lobbyists, and the entertainment industry also doesn't want anything that weakens the anti-circumvention clause).

It would be difficult to look on this turn of events in a positive way no matter what angle you might take. It's clearly abusing copyright law beyond its intended purpose. It's limiting competition. It's making life worse for the public and for small businesses. So how could this possibly be spun as a good thing? Leave that to Copyright Office boss Maria Pallante. At a recent conference all about Section 108 of the Copyright Act, she apparently declared (via Copycense, who was in attendance):
"I think it's really great your car mechanic knows about copyright"
She similarly argued that a big challenge of copyright law is making it more accessible and suggested it was a good thing that it's "no longer" reserved to experts to deal with copyright law. All of that should actually be seen as a pretty massive problem with the system. As a government-granted monopoly privilege that also has free speech implications, we should want copyright to be very carefully limited and calibrated in a manner that it is not something that enters people's everyday lives, and that it's not an issue that a mechanic should ever need to know about. Those are signs of a completely broken system. They're signs that copyright has expanded massively beyond its basic structure, into a monstrosity, often driven by the nature of technology. When your mechanic needs to be an expert in copyright law just to know if he or she can fix your car it may make Maria Pallante happier, because it seems to validate her job, but it should be seen as a huge problem for the system. A copyright system that is working is one that doesn't trouble totally unrelated professions like mechanics. It's only a broken system that would create serious friction in jobs like that. That the head of the Copyright Office does not realize this is pretty frightening.

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  1. identicon
    Gay Gordon-Byrne, 11 Feb 2013 @ 10:55am

    OEM abuse of copyright concepts

    The problems being experienced by auto mechanics are the same as those in the business of repair of any other products with digital parts - particularly familiar territory for the independent computer repair companies.

    OEMs have taken to claiming copyright protection for routines that have previously been considered part of the hardware - such as the delivery of engineering changes using microcode and firmware rather than shipping a new part.

    As with the auto industry - mechanics and repair providers need access to the "recalls" of the digital world, known as patches and fixes, and are being blocked using claims of IP on parts which are otherwise protected by patent law.

    How is the manufacturer of an engine control module or ABS brake chip harmed by the auto owner downloading or restoring the applicable recalls for that part?

    If this layer of code is to be considered IP - then none of us can own anything digital - including cell phones, televisions, programmable coffee pots, or automobiles.

    Our goal at the digital right to repair Coalition (new in January) is to correctly define the hardware-centric routines that serve only to make the equipment work from creative intellectual property, such as application software.

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