The Copyright Office Says You Can Modify Your Car

moms garage 5 (1)I’m not totally sure I follow the press release I just got. It makes it sounds like the Copyright Office just gave permission for individuals to modify their cars. Um… weren’t we already allowed to mod our cars? I’m not even sure how this all started but Jalopnik summed it all up here. 

The good news is that we are still able to work on our cars. The bad news is that the exemption only covers individuals, not third parties who the individuals pay to modify their cars. Apparently that would require a “legislative amendment undertaken by Congress.” I can’t imagine this moving forward or it ever being enforced but technically third party aftermarket shops were not given an exemption by the copyright office. Which I think means they aren’t allowed to modify people’s cars? That doesn’t sound right to me.

This is the release I received below. It was sent by SEMA who has been providing comments to the Copyright Office.

The U.S. Copyright Office today issued a ruling to allow vehicle owners to perform vehicle diagnosis, repair and modification without fear of prosecution under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  However, the Copyright Office declined to provide the exemption to third parties who diagnose, repair or modify a vehicle 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, 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 at http://copyright.gov/1201/2015/reply-comments-050115/class%2021/ReplyComments_LongForm_SEMA_Class21.pdf.

Bill Caswell is a self-taught racing driver, mechanic, and fabricator, and rose to internet fame taking a $500 Craigslist BMW to a World Rally Championship event in Mexico in March of 2010. His exploits have featured in places like ESPN Magazine, Grassroots Motorsports, NPR Radio, Wired.com and Jalopnik.com. A lifelong fan of rally and motorsport, Caswell famously believes nothing to be impossible.