General Motors and the Fine Print of Vehicle Ownership

North American International Auto Show 2015

Since the early days when Ford first rolled out their Model T, it’s been understood that once a car is bought, it’s yours. Lately, GM’s been claiming that this is actually untrue.
According to the major auto manufacturer, paying tens of thousands of dollars for a GM car is more of a licensing agreement per se, and GM still owns the software that controls everything from airbags to steering. Anyone caught tinkering with their car’s software in order to make a routine repair, according to GM, would be violating copyright agreements.
What does this mean for professionals and students enrolled in automotive schools? Read on to find out.

The Crux of the Car Ownership Issue

The reason why car ownership is now entering a dangerous grey-zone all comes down to software.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, also known as the DMCA, is the 1998 copyright law that touches on everything from cellphones to your car. It protects companies from copyright infringement, but would also make it illegal for car enthusiasts and third party mechanics to make any changes to software during repairs. According to the law, any repair that touches on software can only be done by the person that owns that software. And according to GM, that owner – even after purchase – is still them.
Because computer software now touches on everything from braking systems to whether or not airbags deploy in an accident, car service technicians with auto mechanic training by necessity need to deal with software when making even the most routine repairs. Today’s auto experts are now worried that such a law would force consumers to only go to approved dealerships for car repairs—which is why they’re fighting back.

Concerns About the GM Ownership Claim

Professionals with automotive sales training know just how important it is for used car buyers to know exactly what condition a car is in when they buy it. This is why GM is appealing to that sense of safety. GM, in its defense, says that new software make their cars much harder to modify, and that anyone tinkering with their GM car could make a dangerous life-threatening change.
According to GM, this law would protect consumers, and would act as a quality-control measure for anyone purchasing a used car. Critics of the copyright law, though, say that GM’s concerns are about profits, not safety.
According to these critics, there are already measures in place that take care of this kind of quality control, and that GM might not really have the “superior knowledge” it claims to have. In fact, it was a third-party investigation that uncovered a dangerous security flaw in the software of GM’s cars which allowed hackers to break in.
Enforcing the copyright law would make that kind of investigation illegal, and would also increase GM profits by forcing consumers to only use approved dealerships for car repairs.
Do you think car manufacturers have the right to claim protection from copyright infringement of their software?

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