Exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) have finally gone into effect, which means that you can now legally hack the computer systems on your motorcycle and other motor vehicles.
The exceptions were put into place last year by the Librarian of Congress, despite pressure from vehicle manufacturers, who wanted to extend digital right management (DRM) practices to the computer systems that now permeate the two and four-wheeled spaces.
This is a win for security researchers and hobbyist mechanics, because it means that they can modify the software on their personal and research vehicles, without the fear of running afoul of the DMCA, which we should point out was written roughly 20 years ago.
A piece of legislation that never intended for these consequences, the DMCA has been distorted by corporations into a tool that penalizes the users and customers of digital products.
DRM was originally intended to protect the copyright interests of movie studios and record labels, which were seeing their wares illegally shared online, with budding peer-to-peer sharing networks, like Napster.
The DMCA made it illegal to crack or decipher any piece of software that used DRM security provisions, those protecting movies and songs (at least, in theory), but it was soon applied to things beyond the original scope of the law, like pacemakers, refrigerators, motor vehicles, etc.
Thankfully, the activation of these DMCA exemptions now makes it legal for owners to work on the electronic systems of their vehicles, and other goods. It also providers cover for researchers, who may be exploring electronics of a vehicle for exploits.
The move isn’t permanent, however. These exemptions being carved out will have a two-year shelf life. After that time period, the exemptions will expire, unless they are renewed or codified into law.
In the end, this could be an advantageous state for vehicle manufacturers, as we have already seen companies taking advantage of “bug bounties” – a program where companies reward those who find glitches in their software.
GM has already implemented such a program, earlier this year, which is of note, as GM was one of the vehicle manufacturers that was opposing these exemptions through a third-party lobbying group.
With motorcycle manufacturers just now beginning to add connected electronic systems to their vehicles, these exemptions seem to come at an important juncture in time.
Home mechanics will also benefit from this news, as they can now legally access, diagnose, and modify the electronics on their vehicles.
We should point out though that this is not an open hunting license to modifying vehicles to bypass noise and emission standards, unless of course you’re operating your vehicle off-road or at a race track.