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.