GM Testifies That They Own Your Cars Software. Do Not Touch It

Banks

There is no word yet whether modules that plug inline with sensors would be illegal or not.

About a month ago, we broke the story that there were multiple manufacturers trying to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent you from modifying your vehicle. Many of our readers mentioned that this would never happen and we are making it up. Well, the hearings over this are being conducted now and the decision could greatly effect you and your vehicle, not to mention the entire industry.

GM_LOGOGeneral Motors and John Deere are taking the stance that the software used to run your vehicle is theirs and should be protected under the DMCA. If the US Copyright Office agrees, this could make it illegal to change the tune on your vehicle. It may even go as far as to make it illegal to do many repairs. There are a number of media outlets reporting that this may have a substantial effect on independent repair shops.

In addition to vehicle repairs, this would mean that most of the modifications that we have grown to love over the years are not possible because they require tuning changes. This would mean that changing injectors or turbochargers would not be legal. Exhaust systems would be ok, but some transmission upgrades require tune modifications, which would not be legal. The entire diesel tuner market may find itself on the wrong side of the law within the next few weeks if GM and John Deere have their way. Modules (electric tuning devices that intercept the signals from sensors and send a modified signal to the ECM) may or may not be illegal. It just depends on how far the OEM’s are willing to push the issue. Certainly, at this point, we can assume they will go after modules as well.

This would mean that in order to modify your vehicle with anything that requires a tune adjustment, you would need to use a standalone computer system that does not interface with the factory software. This would mean roughly a $12,000 to $20,000 standalone system which isn’t necessarily obtainable for the “average” guy.

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Bully_Dog_1

Over the past two decades the tuner market has exploded. Especially, in the diesel market. Tuners like this Bully Dog would be illegal if the software falls under the DMCA.

On top of that, you could run into an issue with emissions as most aftermarket computer systems aren’t CARB approved. This could have a ripple effect throughout the entire automotive aftermarket industry. Hopefully, the good folks at SEMA and other associations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation can be persuasive in the argument that the DMCA doesn’t pertain to the software inside of a vehicle.

It is our position the software in the vehicle is licensed by the owner of the vehicle — Harry Lightsey, General Motors

According to Autoblog, GM says that even though you don’t have a license agreement for the ECUs software due to the myriad of ECUs within the vehicle, the software used to run the vehicle is still theirs and it is an assumed license agreement. Harry Lightsey GM’s attorney said, “It is our position the software in the vehicle is licensed by the owner of the vehicle.”

Unfortunately, the Copyright Office holds a hearing every three years to review what the DMCA covers. It is obvious by GM and John Deere’s efforts that this isn’t an issue that will go away even if they lose this round. If they lose, we would expect new legal jargon in contracts and more stickers on vehicles claiming ownership for a future battle in 2018. Check out Autoblog for more details on GM’s stance.

About the author

Chad Westfall

With diesel running through his veins from childhood, Chad has more than a decade of experience in the automotive industry. From editorial work to wrenching, there isn’t much he hasn't conquered head-on. When he’s not writing and shooting trucks and tech, you’ll find him in the shop working on turning the ideas floating around in his head into reality.
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