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News   October 28, 2015   by Allan Janssen

Copyright Office ruling allows for vehicle software modification

The U.S. Copyright Office has ruled against automakers who wanted legislation preventing motorist from ‘tampering’ with their proprietary vehicle software.

The government office announced today that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) does not apply to vehicle owners who diagnose, repair, or modify their vehicles’ software.

The Copyright Office failed to offer the same exemption to third parties, like independent repair professionals, who work on the software on behalf of the vehicle owner.

The Copyright Office concluded that extending the reach of an exemption to cover third-parties requires a legislative amendment undertaken by Congress. Access to a vehicle’s telematics or entertainment system was also specifically excluded from the exemption.

Earlier this year, in support of the industry and consumers, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) provided comments to the Copyright Office seeking an exemption from the DMCA for circumvention of controls on vehicle software for the purpose of vehicle diagnosis, repair or modification by the vehicle owner.

“The issue of copyright affecting the ability to diagnose, repair and modify vehicles has come up recently due to the proliferation of advanced vehicle technology, specifically software, in modern vehicles,” said SEMA CEO and president Chris Kersting.

“SEMA has always maintained that the right to access vehicle systems to utilize, maintain and upgrade vehicles is legal as fair use under copyright law, as are activities undertaken to achieve interoperability with aftermarket products.”

The DMCA was enacted in 1998 and prohibits the circumvention of measures put in place by a copyright owner to protect copyrighted works.

The law also includes a provision allowing the Copyright Office to grant exemptions from this anti-circumvention provision, and the exemption for vehicle repair, diagnosis or modification was granted under this provision.

A copy of the SEMA comments is available on the Copyright Office website.