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Hacking Your Car is Fine, Says U.S. Copyright Office

by Keith Wagstaff /

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Feel like tinkering with your car's software? That's fine as far as the U.S. Copyright Office is concerned.

The Library of Congress, which oversees the U.S. Copyright Office, created an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on Tuesday that says that people who alter the software on their cars aren't violating copyright law.

This comes after the Alliance of Automakers — a group that includes BMW, General Motors, Toyota and others — objected to such a move earlier this year.

"Many of the scores of electronic control systems embodied in today’s motor vehicles are carefully calibrated to satisfy federal or state regulatory requirements with respect to vehicle safety, emissions control and fuel economy," the group wrote, adding that messing with a car's software could cause it to fail those standards.

On the other side of the issue, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) praised the Library of Congress for acting to "promote competition in the vehicle aftermarket and protect the long tradition of vehicle owners tinkering with their cars and tractors."

"This ‘access control’ rule is supposed to protect against unlawful copying," Kit Walsh, an EFF staff attorney, said in a statement. "But as we’ve seen in the recent Volkswagen scandal — where VW was caught manipulating smog tests — it can be used instead to hide wrongdoing hidden in computer code."

The new rule will protect security researchers looking for vulnerabilities in car software. Eager hackers, however, shouldn't start tinkering yet; the exemption doesn't go into effect until one year from now.

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