Recent developments in the U.S. have pitted advocates for DIYers against automakers.
In a surprising battleground, advocates of the rights of car owners to repair their own cars have faced off against automakers before the U.S. Copyright Office, as that office considers exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
On one side, advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have stated that car owners should have the right to work on their own cars and determine who can work on their cars. On the other side are the automakers, who have characterized what DIYers do as “tinkering,” “legally problematic,” and “potentially dangerous.”
The EFF says that automakers want not just a bigger piece of the pie as performance and personalization trends grow; they want the whole pie.
Somewhere caught in the middle of all this is the unspoken object of this battle: the independent repair sector, which has regularly been cited in media as the real object of the automakers’ moves, and the performance industry, which more than any other segment of the aftermarket is involved at the DIY level and in the business of modifying vehicles, including digital control units, to improve the performance of vehicles on the road.
While there are many legal controls in place to ensure that performance components maintain the performance of vehicles within the legal limits for emissions, lighting, etc., speculation has been put forth broadly that it is this sector that would feel any technology lockout most keenly.
Accordingly, we asked Mike Spagnola, VP of OEM and product development programs at the Specialty Equipment Market Association, for the association’s view on the issue.
How would you characterize the potential impact on the performance aftermarket, if the U.S. Copyright Office were to grant the protections the automakers are seeking?
Since we believe that the industry and enthusiasts already have the right to access vehicle systems for vehicle modifications, a denial of an exemption from the DMCA, per the automaker’s response, would not change the law or the rights of enthusiasts.
While the focus of the presentations are on the DIYer, what other parts of the specialty and performance aftermarket would be affected and how?
As mentioned, our belief is that those in the industry already have the right to modify vehicles, so we do not anticipate any of our stakeholders will be impacted.
The OEM presentations characterize DIY and aftermarket “tinkering” as being dangerous, having an adverse impact on safety and the environment, and being “legally problematic.” What’s the real state of affairs with today’s performance aftermarket?
The relationship we have with regulators and automakers is collaborative. This relationship has resulted in a long history of developing innovative products that meet the requirements of the law.
How do you reconcile the fact that automakers are seeking this protection on one hand, and at the same time being very active participants in SEMA programs that work with specialty and performance suppliers to create high-performance versions of the cars they build?
Because this matter involves the carmakers responding to a public interest group’s request for an exemption from a specialized provision of the copyright law, it is difficult to make generalized conclusions. However, SEMA will be working with the carmakers to make clear that the industry and car owners maintain the right to work with and modify their vehicles within the law.
What is SEMA doing to ensure that DIYers and others in the performance aftermarket can continue to work on cars, develop products, etc.?
Since SEMA’s inception, the association has represented the interests of the specialty-equipment industry and our consumers. We work with all of the stakeholders – consumers, SEMA-member businesses, OEMs and lawmakers – to maintain and advance the opportunity to utilize, personalize, and upgrade cars and trucks.
What should participants in the performance aftermarket do to ensure that access to performance parts and devices continues into the future?
Our industry members have an outstanding track record working with new vehicle technologies and systems, while providing consumers with high-quality products. We are confident in their abilities to continue doing so. Meanwhile our association offers member companies assistance through an ever-expanding array of vehicle technology programs.
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