The Library of Congress, which oversees the U.S. Copyright Office, recently ruled that vehicle owners are permitted to modify their cars without incurring U.S. copyright liability.
US copyright officials decided that altering computer programs for vehicle repair or modification may not infringe a manufacturer’s software copyright. Vehicle manufacturers, including General Motors and Deere & Co. opposed the rules. General Motors argued that the new rules would weaken safety innovation and that sensitive vehicle data could be easily manipulated, altered, or distributed.
Both General Motors and Deere & Co. argued that vehicle owners could just visit authorized repair shops for changes they needed to make to their vehicles. Security researchers also opposed the rules, arguing for copyright liability protection because computer programs are widely used in modern machines and devices, including vehicles, home appliances and medical devices.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also expressed opposition to the rules, explaining that vehicle modifications are often performed to increase engine power or boost fuel economy, but that these modifications increase emissions and thus violate the Clean Air Act.
However, the Library of Congress indicated that the new rules did not authorize vehicle owners to break any laws and that the new rules would not take effect for a year. The EPA and other government agencies would therefore have time to prepare and issue any non-conflicting rules and regulations.
In support of the new rules was the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a leading non-profit organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF lobbies for user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.
Kit Wilson, a staff attorney for EFF, said that they were pleased that “analysts will now be able to examine the software in the cars we drive without facing legal threats from car manufacturers.” Wilson indicated that the new rules would need to be renewed in three years. He also warned that vehicle owners could perform other activities on their cars that would violate an auto manufacturer’s copyright, like extracting programming code and selling it.