The Wall Street Journal reports on a nefarious development for gearheads:
Do you own the car you’ve bought and paid for? Not really, not all of it. At least that’s what auto makers are asserting to the U.S. Copyright Office.
Tinkerers, aftermarket repair shops and copyright activists are lobbying for an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 to guarantee car owners the right to alter the software in their vehicles. Dozens of “electronic control units” in modern cars regulate emissions, steering and other aspects of automotive performance.
The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Automobile Association — speaking for car owners — back the exemption, as do security researchers who want to probe auto software for vulnerabilities. Ford, GM, Toyota and other major car makers are adamantly opposed. Their argument is that a car buyer merely licenses that software code from the auto maker and cannot break the security measures walling it off without violating copyright law.
This claim could end the American pastime of tinkering under the hood. But the precedent will reach beyond the auto shop, particularly as more everyday products begin to include software code. Futurists talk of an “Internet of things,” a world in which everything from your thermostat to refrigerator is run in part by networked electronics.
The auto makers’ claim might at first seem reasonable. They contend that third-party mechanics must use manufacturer-approved diagnostic equipment to analyze problems, and that fixes must stay within manufacturer-approved limits. Giving car owners freedom to change the code, they say, would further devalue their intellectual property, as defined by the DMCA. It could also undermine road safety and emissions standards. A malevolent tinkerer could alter a car’s braking code to make the car uncontrollable. Hackers could use networked systems — GM’s OnStar, for instance, lets the company unlock doors remotely or slow down cars reported stolen—to cause mayhem on roadways.
But this argument assumes that code is more secure when it is tightly held, a notion sometimes described as “security by obscurity.” The truth is the opposite: When systems are closed, through copyright or other means, they become less secure.
Does anyone think a hacker would stop breaking into car software for fear of copyright infringement? The only people who would obey these laws are aboveboard professional and amateur tinkerers. That means consumers would have to trust that car makers and their consultants will be able to identify and fix every potential code issue.
Better to allow many outside experts and tinkerers to study the software. Some companies even encourage this by offering prizes, cash bounties for reported bugs. Two years ago a British security researcher won $100,000 from Microsoft for finding a major flaw in the Windows operating system that had not yet been exploited by hackers.
The argument that letting people fiddle with their cars compromises safety also goes against history: Since the Model T, gear heads have switched out tires and suspension systems, adding turbochargers and other performance boosters. One reason that some states mandate regular vehicle inspections is to ensure that this doesn’t get out of hand. Car makers have never complained about these “mods” in the past, and in any case there wasn’t much they could do. The rise of new copyright laws, however, has given them additional leverage.
Aftermarket parts-and-tuning is a $35 billion industry, according to Derive Systems, a car-software company that opposes the auto companies on software tinkering. Derive estimates that 60% or more of aftermarket mods require software tuning. Powertrains are now so carefully calibrated that even adding bigger tires might require a software tweak.
Derive Systems says it has completed more than 1.3 million code modifications since 2003 without a single known related accident. One particularly innocuous modification involves changing how a vehicle consumes fuel while idling. Taxis, for example, tend to idle more than other cars. Derive can change the software settings to improve fuel efficiency in idling taxi fleets by as much as 30%. Under the car makers’ interpretation of copyright law, that would be illegal.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that auto makers are engaging in “copyright creep.” The DMCA, they argue, was designed to protect creative works, such as recorded songs, not software code in automobiles.
When the Copyright Office makes its recommendations, expected this fall — the Librarian of Congress makes the final decision — it should consider the precedent it would set. Do you want to be told someday that you or a repairman can’t modify your refrigerator or thermostat to improve its performance or keep it running? In a world in which every device may someday include software, it is essential to preserve the right to tinker.
Then there’s this, from My Classic Garage:
A new day might be donning in America for the classic car market. Currently in Congress in a bill poised to allow Auto Manufacturers reproduction on classic car under new government specs. H.R. 2675, as it’s labelled, has some big implication for both sides of the table. It would give more people to experience of driving and owning classic cars, but there is a serious potential to hurt business for certain companies.
The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2105 officially says:
“To direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish a program allowing low volume motor vehicle manufacturers to produce a limited number of vehicles annually within a regulatory system that addresses the unique safety and financial issues associated with limited production, and to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to allow low volume motor vehicle manufacturers to install engines from vehicles that have been issued certificates of conformity.”
It goes into more detail about how each manufacturer would be allowed to produce up to 500 of these ‘limited vehicles.’ Even more detail is given stating that the car must be drawn from a pool of vehicles that qualify as ‘classic’ which is 25 years and older.
This is has a few people buzzing around the internet. Some of our friends are tickled at the thought of seeing a first generation challenger with all modern equipment, or even better, a Daytona powered by the Hellcat drive train. Just the thought itself makes us a little giggly because that would just be freaking awesome! But flip that coin over and there a few who worry this will kill the Classic Market.
If more cars are pumped into production will they decrease the value of current ‘originals?’ It’s an argument that some say has more bad implications than good intention. The all original Mustang someone has been holding onto as their retirement fund just got a lot more affordable to everyone else. The premium goes down, and suddenly the market crashes.
Obviously, Market crash is a bit extreme, I’ll admit I am playing on fear there, but I also think something like this could negatively affect businesses. Auction houses such as Barrett-Jackson, Leake, and specialty shops around the country are suddenly competing with manufacturers for market space. It’s like going from Mom and Pop Hardware to the brand new Home Depot next door. There will always be nostalgic value, but if you can save more at the Home Depot why spend more?
Either way this coin gets flipped there are benefits and deficits, but at the end of the day it would be great to see more people behind the wheel of cool cars.
Essentially this sounds an attempt by carmakers to do their own restomods. Your position on whether this would negatively affect classic car values depends on whether you own one, I imagine, similar to your opinion about home values where you live.