28 October 2015Copyright

US Copyright Office approves fair use hacking in automobiles

Drivers can hack into a car’s computer software for the purposes of repair and security research, the US Copyright Office has said, despite opposition from automobile groups and manufacturers.

The Library of Congress, which oversees the US Copyright Office, approved requests filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law to relax copyright restrictions on automobile software for certain uses.

Under the exemption, car owners are not liable for copyright infringement “when circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorised owner of the vehicle to allow diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function”.

Furthermore, the office approved car owners circumventing the restrictions on accessing software in an automobile “for the purpose of good-faith security research”.

The exemptions, approved on October 20 but published today, October 28, will not take effect for another year.

Before the ruling, drivers were prohibited under section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) from accessing their car’s software. Section 1201 stops anybody circumventing a “technological measure that effectively controls access to a work”.

In a statement issued yesterday, the EFF welcomed the office’s decision.

“This ‘access control’ rule is supposed to protect against unlawful copying,” said Kit Walsh, staff attorney at the EFF.

“But as we’ve seen in the recent Volkswagen scandal—where the company was caught manipulating smog tests—it can be used instead to hide wrongdoing hidden in computer code. We are pleased that analysts will now be able to examine the software in the cars we drive without facing legal threats from car manufacturers,” he added.

Among those opposing the exemption were car manufacturer General Motors and trade associations the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers.

They argued that car owners could visit authorised repair shops to fix issues with the vehicles. Also, the exemption would present health and safety issues, because users can modify the vehicle in order to circumvent emissions restrictions.

Every three years, the US Copyright Office invites stakeholders to file requests to exempt uses of protected work under the DMCA. It is a process that EFF legal director Corynne McSherry described as “absurd”.

“Technologists, artists, and fans should not have to get permission from the government—and rely on the contradictory often nonsensical rulings—before investigating whether their car is lying to them,” she said.

Already registered?

Login to your account

To request a FREE 2-week trial subscription, please signup.
NOTE - this can take up to 48hrs to be approved.

Two Weeks Free Trial

For multi-user price options, or to check if your company has an existing subscription that we can add you to for FREE, please email Adrian Tapping at

More on this story

29 May 2018   The US Copyright Office has proposed adopting an average 41% increase in fees in order to account for inflation.
8 April 2021   The saga of Google v Oracle kept the IP world on tenterhooks for more than a decade—and this week’s SCOTUS ruling delivered a final unexpected twist—significantly expanding the scope of “fair use”.