No More Home Car Repairs?

Repairing your vehicle at home could be illegal in the future, and it’s all due to copyright infringement. According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, tinkering with a vehicle’s computer system, either by the vehicle’s owner or a third party, could be a violation of the auto manufacturer’s copyright on the software. While some groups are opposed to this, automaker supporters claim it is more to do with safety than proprietary infringements.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) isn’t new. It became law in 1998. What is new is the petition filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit watchdog group (, to make sure home and third-party repairs are exempted from the law.

According to the EFF, when the DMCA was passed, Congress created “anti-circumvention” measures, ostensibly designed to prevent people from undermining DRM for purposes of a copyright infringement. Recognizing that the law could impede lawful and important uses of copyrighted works, Congress included a provision in which the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress are tasked with deciding which activities should and should not be exempted every three years through a complicated legal process.

The vehicle exemption is part of the petitions filed by the EFF in February of this year. “The DMCA shouldn’t keep vehicle owners from looking under the hood,” said Staff Attorney Kit Walsh, lead drafter of the petitions relating to vehicles. “We all benefit when independent repair shops have the knowledge they need to compete, when experts are able to check for safety issues, and when enthusiasts can come up with car mods and share their knowledge with the world.”

Opponents have 45 days to respond, which the Global Automakers ( did in late March. The group stated, “On March 27, 2015 the Global Automakers submitted comments to the Library of Congress opposing a proposal by certain members of the public, under the DMCA, to exempt them from liability for copyright infringement for altering the computer software in a vehicle for the purpose of ‘diagnosis and repair, or aftermarket personalization, modification, or other improvement.’”

The statement further explained that today’s vehicles are run by software comprised of millions of lines of code, controlling complex systems that are interdependent - from crash avoidance systems to vehicle exhaust. Permitting unauthorized access for purposes of modification of the software, is likely to have uniquely long-lasting and far-reaching, harmful effects.

The Global Automakers also stated restricting access to a vehicle’s software benefits the public because those vehicles on the street will have complied with safety and environmental standards, as well as addressing the growing problem of cybersecurity.

“In addition, such access is not needed to diagnose or repair a vehicle; automobile manufacturers already provide motor vehicle owners and the independent repair community with the same access to diagnostic and repair information and tools, including the ability to repair electronics systems, as new motor vehicle franchise dealers,” the group stated.

The Copyright Office is expected to issue its recommendations in the fall, with the Librarian of Congress making final decisions.

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