SEMA DMCA Booss 429
John Gilbert Staff Editor
October 28, 2015

When it comes to the latest laws to prevent you from working on your own car did you ever get the feeling you were living in a poorly written episode of the Twilight Zone that runs on a Groundhog Day loop? Well, believe it or not legal things just got a little better for the folks that believe owning an automobile means its their own personal property.

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.