In a not-so-surprising move, global carmakers are attempting to use the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), to criminalise people who make alternations to a vehicle’s ECU.
This could have huge implications for the aftermarket industry, especially tune-up shops, and even those merely trying to extract better fuel economy by the use of “chip technology”.
And we can’t even hide behind the fact that “this is US” law, as has been proven by New Zealand’s adoption of Internet copyright legislation under pressure from the US. Indeed, the Dotcom case is the supreme manifestation of this.
This all came about because a group called the Electronic Frontier Foundation proposed motor vehicles should be exempt from the DMCO, a move which prompted a quick response from the motor manufacturers.
They call themselves, in this case, the “Automaker’s Alliance”, and include BMW Group, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles US, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes- Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Cars North America, and they are citing safety and emissions legislation as reasons for their opposition to the proposed exemption.
However, the EFF states that it should be possible to lock out these parts of an ECU’s software while leaving others open to modification and improvement by the vehicle owner.
Response to that has been that the vehicle owner doesn’t “own” the ECU software, and merely licences the use of it, much the same as any other computer software.
Says the most relevant section of the Alliance filing: “Many of the ECUs embodied in today’s motor vehicles are carefully calibrated to satisfy federal or state regulatory requirements with respect to emissions control, fuel economy, or vehicle safety. Allowing vehicle owners to add and remove programmes at whim is highly likely to take vehicles out of compliance with these requirements, rendering the operation or re-sale of the vehicle legally problematic.”
It will be interesting to see how far this goes!