New Ruling Lets You Tinker With Car Software, Old Video Games

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Car owners can modify vehicle software.

Jailbreakers and tinkerers, rejoice! Not long ago, messing with your car — once a favored pastime of grease monkeys with hopelessly cluttered garages in search of any edge in power or fuel efficiency — got darned complicated.

Car owners and security experts can tinker with automobile software without incurring some US copyright liability, according to new guidelines issued this month that had been opposed by the auto industry. The Library of Congress this week granted several exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will let curious tech enthusiasts fiddle with their gadgets without the threat of prosecution. These cars today — they’ve got computers, you see. “We all know that working on and tinkering with a modern car is a very different undertaking than it has been previously,” automobile news site Jalopnik wrote earlier this year. “It’s no longer just about putting on a new manifold and dual carbs, modern cars involve many, many computers, and working on your car usually means working with and talking to the computers embedded in the car.” And because every car comes with a CPU — and many CPUs contain proprietary information — tooling around in the garage could also amount to a copyright violation. Basically, folks can now legally rip DVDs to make fair-use remixes, play out-of-support video games, jailbreak their mobile devices, and tinker with in-car software.

In a ruling that also freed those who wish to modify tablets and smart TVs, the LOC said, more or less, monkey away. “I am glad they granted these exemptions,” Sherwin Siy, vice president for legal affairs for Public Knowledge, an Internet freedom advocate, told ArsTechnica. “I am not glad it was necessary for them to do so in the first place.” The U.S. However, US copyright officials decided that altering computer programs for vehicle repair or modification may not infringe a manufacturer’s software copyright.

Copyright Office’s “Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies” is not scintillating reading. Here’s the relevant passage: Computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial motor vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle, except for computer programs primarily designed for the control of telematics or entertainment systems for such vehicle, when circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorized owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function; and where such circumvention does not constitute a violation of applicable law, including without limitation regulations promulgated by the Department of Transportation or the Environmental Protection Agency; and provided, however, that such circumvention is initiated no earlier than 12 months after the effective date of this regulation. Security researchers also pushed for copyright liability protection because computer programs are “pervasive” in modern machines and devices, including vehicles, home appliances and medical devices. “We are pleased that analysts will now be able to examine the software in the cars we drive without facing legal threats from car manufacturers,” said Kit Wilson, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocated for the rule changes.

Libraries, museums, and gamers, for example, can now modify a game so that it doesn’t have to check in with an authentication server to operate—welcome news in an era of online-only gaming. Similarly, the Librarian broadened the rule for noncommercial remix videos, so people can legally use clips from DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, or downloading services. “We hope each of these exemptions enable more exciting fair uses that educate, entertain, improve the underlying technology, and keep us safer,” the EFF said.

However, the new rules do not allow vehicle owners to break any other laws, the Library said, and will not take effect for a year so the EPA and other agencies have time to prepare. But some believe the legislation takes things too far. “The exemptions are needed thanks to a fundamentally flawed law that forbids users from breaking DRM, even if the purpose is a clearly lawful fair use,” the EFF wrote in a blog post. Exceptions expire every three years, and must be resubmitted by the public via what the EFF called “an elaborate rulemaking process.” Every dispensation—even those that have been previously granted—must be argued again.

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