Back in April 2015, home mechanics, repair shops, and aftermarket tuners were threatened by several automakers and other companies who opposed the adoption of an exemption by the U.S. Copyright Office in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allowed for modification of automotive software by the car’s owner or on his behalf.

In other words, these automakers wanted to protect their vehicles’ ECU software under copyright law. This would make it illegal for owners to modify or “tune” the software in their rightfully purchased vehicles.

Thankfully the U.S. Copyright Office has granted the exemption. Owners and independent repair shops can continue tinkering on cars as they have for the last 100 years.

There is a catch, however. The exemption does prohibit the tampering or modification to software dealing with telematics or entertainment systems. The legal docket reads: “Accordingly, the recommended exemption excludes computer programs in ECUs that are chiefly designed to operate vehicle entertainment and telematics systems due to insufficient evidence demonstrating a need to access such ECUs, and out of concern that such circumvention might enable unauthorized access to creative or proprietary content.”

And while the U.S. Copyright Office’s gearhead-friendly exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows for vehicle modification, it does not allow for the vehicle to become modified beyond other legal limits. Vehicles must still meet EPA emissions and other governmental regulations.

Still, this is a huge win for gearheads and non-automaker affiliate repair and speed shops.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

Having the U.S. Government restrict home mechanics and independent repair shops from accessing a vehicle’s ECU and its software would put a damper on many enthusiasts and their quest for more horsepower and speed. Think Hennessey or Lingenfelter, along with the small repair shop around the corner. These types of establishments would either be out of luck or would have to purchase proprietary hardware from the automaker in order to conduct repairs or modifications.

This exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows for the automotive sector to continue (mostly) as normal. The changes regarding the telematics and infotainment software will go into effect October 28, 2015.

Here is the full exemption:

"Computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial motor vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle, except for computer programs primarily designed for the control of telematics or entertainment systems for such vehicle, when circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorized owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function; and where such circumvention does not constitute a violation of applicable law, including without limitation regulations promulgated by the Department of Transportation or the Environmental Protection Agency; and provided, however, that such circumvention is initiated no earlier than 12 months after the effective date of this regulation."

Source: U.S. Copyright Office

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