EFF Granted DMCA Exemption: Hacking Your Own Car Is Legal For Now

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a horrible piece of legislation that we’ve been living with for sixteen years now. In addition to establishing a de-facto copyright for the design of boat hulls (don’t get us started!), the DMCA includes a Section 1201 which criminalizes defeating encryption in cases where such could be used to break copyright law.

Originally intended to stop the rampant copying of music in the Napster era, it’s been abused to prevent users from re-filling their inkjet cartridges and to cover up rootkits. In short, it’s scope has vastly exceeded its original aims. And we take it personally, because we like to take stuff apart and see how it works.

EFF_LogoThe only bright light in this otherwise dark, dark tunnel is the possibility to petition for exemptions to Section 1201 for certain devices and purposes. Just a few days ago, the EFF won a slew of DMCA exemptions, including the contentious exemption for bypassing automobiles’ encryption to check out what’s going on in the car’s firmware. The obvious relevance of the ability for researchers to inspect cars’ firmware in light of the VW scandal may have helped overcome strong pushback from the car manufacturers and the EPA.

The other exemption that caught our eye was the renewal of protection for people who need to hack old video games to keep them playable, jailbreak phones so that you can run an operating system of your choosing on it, and even the right to copy content from a DVD for remixes and excerpts.

This is all good stuff, but it’s a little bit sad that the EFF has to beg every three years to enable us all to do something that wasn’t illegal until the DMCA was written. But don’t take my word for it, have a listen to Cory Doctorow’s much more eloquent rant.

(Banner image courtesy [Kristoffer Smith], who we covered on car hacking way back when.)

19 thoughts on “EFF Granted DMCA Exemption: Hacking Your Own Car Is Legal For Now

  1. For those of you that browse /r/netsec and /r/reverseenginering. *deep bow*

    If the company doesn”t make the HD or support the SW. USofA now have the The Librarian of Congress backing you up in your endeavors,

    That includes companies hiding behind the DMCA and Licensee for products no longer support.

    This includes SW and HW no longer produced or supported by the company.

    In fact if the company buries the datasheet info we can now attack them directly for sloppy documentation..

    1. I think we are going to import all of that and then some when TTIP and TISA get ratified.

      Actually we can’t know yet, because we don’t know what’s being negotiated secretly on our behalf. But seeing who is drafting those things should give an idea of what’s in there.

  2. Sadly there is nothing we can do to change the course of manufacturers doing dumb things and making it illegal. I’ll still do it, I love modifying my BMW’s settings and feature setups instead of paying a dealer $400 to do what I can do in 5 minutes. But under the distraction of “security and ZOMG HAXXORS” that really is way overblown we will see it all locked down and will see people getting 20 years in prison for modifying their own car.

    It just means we will need to hide our tools and play dumb…. “No officer, I can barely use a computer. It must have been malicious hackers that changed my lane change blink from 3 to 5.”

  3. The EFF is really a stand out group in a sea of worthless lobbing organizations if you think about it… Deserves a lot more support and credit than they typically receive. Who even knew it was against the law to hack your cars ECU’s?? That would included loading modified OS versions for custom tunes I take it. I know guys who could get life then… lol. There has always been this strange hush hush kinda attitude about postings related to this field. Hopefully we can change that now…

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