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.

Source: Wired

  • Ulysses Araujo

    I didn’t understand – is there a two-year limit to this?

  • Yes. These exemptions expire in two years, though they may be renewed after that time period.

  • paulus

    Let’s hope it passes into law. The exception means that manufacturers had no choice so they will play nice (for now). It is in their benefit to get low cost identification of issues with their systems… but it is in their greater interest to get their systems locked up and tamper proof for a possible future when it’s OE or nothing. The John Deere case is/was a prime example of this potential future. No modification, no home fixes, no alternative spare parts options.

  • Wayne Thomas

    But, who is really worried about running afoul of the DCMA anyway? Sure, its legal now, but who was really stopped anyway? The past few years has shown quite clearly that obeying laws is for suckers anyway.

  • spamtasticus

    The first victims of this BS have been the farmers. New tractors are riddled with sensors and ECUs and not only are farmers kept from fixing their own tractors but they are kept from taking them to anyone except the dealer. This is extremely expensive and in some cases hundreds of miles of travel. The reason vehicle manufacturers are fighting this is not about hacking and security. It is so that the only person that can work on your car/motorcycle in the future is the dealer and not the local shop. This also monopolizes the parts business because no third party parts will work with the proprietary software and if you circumvent this you are in fact committing a felony. The really scary part and in no way fantasy, is the fact that legally you currently own the physical object that is you car and your motorcycle, you do not own the software that runs it. You have merely bought a license to use it on that specific vehicle. Every single one of the software licenses for the software in our cars is NON TRANSFERABLE. The new buyer is legally breaking the law when they use your car or bike since they have not entered in a license contract with the maker and you don’t have the authority to transfer yours. They are just not enforcing this. Every vehicle maker’s biggest competitor is not the other car makers, it’s craigslist.

  • Gary

    I seem to remember hearing that Ducati (and possibly Harley too) were applying the IP rights on their products’ software. Likewise their position was that you did not own the software running your bike, you merely were licensed to use it as they allowed and any deviation from this would be a copyright infringement. This would include accessing or altering the software/firmware of your ECU(s) while servicing your bike.

  • Barry Rothwell Taylor

    Home of the free ? apparently not so much …
    Seems Americans are controlled in ways that seem strange and extreme to those of us who live in Europe – here re-chiping a car for more performance is normal and very definitely legal .

  • durandal1

    Funny because the new gen ECU DRM that was introduced a couple of years ago on pretty much every bike was the result of European legislation which dictates measures to prevent tampering.

    (For added perspective: I’m a swede living in the US)

  • paulus

    Not sure on that… Germany is pushing for ever stricter TUV regulations that will not only make modification illegal, but would even dictate the tyre brand you must use (ALL OE specification)…. then let’s see how competitive the market would be when normal competitive pressures are removed.