You Can Legally Work on Your Own Motorcycle, Still

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You may have not realized it, but if certain OEMs had their way, you would not be legally allowed to work on your own motorcycle. That’s right, because of a perversion of the US copyright law, it would have been illegal for you to turn a wrench on your motorcycle, all in the name of digital rights management.

The issues comes around because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a law from 1998 that was originally intended to update the Copyright Act of 1976 for life in the digital age.

Of the more important provisions, the DMCA protects ISPs from copyright claims, and it defines how copyright law would work on the internet and other digital mediums.

One of the major sections of the DMCA deals with digital rights management (DRM), and attempts to circumvent digital systems that are meant to block access to copyrighted information and material. This effectively makes it a violation of the DMCA to circumvent any sort of DRM or encryption put forth by a rights holder.

The original intent of this provision was to protect record labels and movie studios, who were seeing their products shared on peer-to-peer networks ad infinitum, but crafty lawyers have been able to expand this portion of the DMCA to include just about any digital system, including your motorcycle…until now.

The issue reached its zenith earlier this year when John Deere and a number of automobile manufacturers lead by GM, thru a trade group, added comment to the Copyright Office, saying that vehicle owners cannot diagnosis, repair, or modify their vehicles because of the provisions in the DMCA.

The logic they used was that since digital systems are so pervasive in modern vehicles, the vehicle themselves were more like digital networks. And because the digital information was encoded in a proprietary fashion, decoding that information by an un-authorized user (read: anyone who has paid the OEM to be a “certified” mechanic) was akin to a hacker hacking into the vehicle.

The move by the OEMs created an outrage in the digital rights corners of the internet, and counter-comments were filed with the Copyright Office, arguing for the opening of the systems. This notion is especially timely since it was “vehicle hackers” who first discovered that Volkswagen was running afoul of emission regulations by using nefarious software.

Thankfully, the Librarian of Congress has heard our voices, and has since carved out a number of exceptions regarding copyright law and how it pertains to motor vehicles – the most notable exception being the confirmation that vehicle owners are allowed to access the computer systems on their cars, motorcycles, tractors, etc, as are vehicle researchers.

The news is a win for the hobbyist mechanic, who can now safely tinker in his or her garage without fear of legal repercussions. However, the news is also a startling reality of independent shop owners, who are slowly being put out of business by these advanced computer systems.

This is because third-parties are still barred from accessing the digital systems found of motor vehicles, even with authorization from the vehicle owner to do so.

This means that independent mechanics will not be able to service any digital system on your vehicle, at least not without first a legislative amendment made by Congress, or the “blessing” of the vehicle OEM.

The advent of modern electronics on motorcycles has not only made it expensive for small shops to tool-up for modern motorcycles, but proprietary diagnostic equipment and DRM have made it extremely difficult for independent shops to offer the same level of service as “authorized” dealerships and mechanics.

Make no mistake, this reality has not been created by accident.

Source: International Business Times

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.