One of the inherent rights of owning a vehicle is the ability to get on one’s backside — a wrench in one hand and a grease rag in the other, and just tinker to your little heart’s desire. Since the vehicle was invented, it’s been an important facet within the community of gearheads.
General Motors — the same company responsible for 87 deaths related to faulty ignition switches, FYI — wants to take that right away from you citing safety and security issues. Along with a few other big names.
It’s called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It’s been around since 2000 and started as anti-Internet piracy legislation. But automakers want to use it to try and make working on your own car illegal. Yes, illegal. The general premise is that unlike cars of the past, today’s vehicles are so advanced and use such a large amount of software and coding in their general makeup, altering said code could be dangerous and possibly even malicious.
Listing the vehicle as a “mobile computing device,” the law would hypothetically protect automakers from pesky owners looking to alter any sort of technology in the vehicle that relates to the onboard computer. Flashing your ECU would be a big no no, which could also lead to all sorts of problems for aftermarket shops.
What GM, and even tractor companies like John Deere, argues is that you, as an owner, don’t actually own your car. Rather, you’re sort of just borrowing it for an extended amount of time and paying for the rights to use the technology. If it sounds ridiculous— it is. But it gets even more ludicrous.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, John Deere argued that “letting people modify car computer systems will result in them pirating music through the on-board entertainment system.”
That’s right— pirating music. Through a tractor.
DMCA does give a little bit of leeway, though. While the act could hypothetically lock customers out of key safety features, it would still allow owners the ability to repair other areas of the vehicle’s onboard computer as they see fit. It’s a slim compromise, but one that may be more closely based in reality.