Influencers: Revise copyright law so researchers can tinker with car software

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Christian Science Monitor Influencers Poll:

In light of the Volkswagen scandal, the US should revise copyright laws so that people can legally tinker with automotive software, a majority of Passcode Influencers said.

Volkswagen admitted last month that it intentionally cheated US environmental tests on its diesel vehicles using on-board software. A group of West Virginia University researchers who test automakers’ environmental claims for diesel vehicles initially discovered the company’s cheating through field tests. Yet auditing the car’s software to expose the deliberately faulty software would have been against US law, which prohibits researchers from circumventing copyright protections to tinker with cars — even cars they own.

“Copyright law – Sec. 1201 of DMCA – prohibits circumventing technological measures protecting copyrighted works, like software. This prohibition was originally intended to head off copyright violations. But there are many beneficial reasons to unlock software that are unrelated to copyright infringement – such as repairing a car, customizing a hearing aid, switching cell phone carriers, and more. Section 1201 inhibits these otherwise lawful uses of copyrighted works by prohibiting access to them. Sec. 1201 is much broader than preventing copyright violation and is instead used as a blunt means of controlling information. For example, the EPA issued a letter opposing an exemption to Sec. 1201’s prohibition for vehicle software because, the EPA argued, it would allow people to modify car software to bypass pollution controls – yet modifying vehicle software in this way is already illegal under the Clean Air Act. The law should focus on actual crimes, such as software piracy or creating pollution, rather than levying penalties on otherwise lawful and potentially beneficial uses of software and other copyrighted works. Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s Unlocking Technology Act is one of few bills in Congress that takes this problem head on.” – Harley Geiger, Center for Democracy and Technology

“Liability for circumventing technological prevention measures should focus on deterring copyright infringement rather than deterring modification or research of devices when that modification or research does not implicate copyright interests and may in fact benefit device owners, the research community, and the public.” – Nuala O’Connor, Center for Democracy and Technology

Full article here.

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