Opinion/Editorial

OEMs Are Trying to Block “Right to Repair” Laws

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Asphalt & Rubber readers should be familiar with how attempts have been made to use the Digital Millennium Right Act (DMCA) as means of limiting how you can work on your vehicles, including your motorcycle.

These attempts first started in 2015, and were pushed heavily by John Deere and the automobile lobby. Thankfully, last year the the Librarian of Congress allowed exemptions for vehicles to be applied to the DMCA, which will be in effect for the next two years.

Now, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) – a group that represents the interests of motorcycle manufacturers in the United States – is putting pressure on state legislatures and encouraging them to block “Right to Repair” bills that would codify the exemptions made to the DMCA. 

These actions by the MIC are being coordinated with the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) and Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), two groups that represent the interests of off-highway vehicles like side-by-sides and ATVs, respectively.

Why would a group like the MIC want to block our right to repair our own vehicles?

The answer is pretty simple, there is big money at stake in the after-sales servicing of a vehicle like a motorcycle, and the motorcycle industry OEMs, along with other special interest groups, want to keep that business all for themselves.

If successful in blocking Right to Repair bills, and the exemption for vehicles from the DMCA lapses, then it will mean that it will be illegal for owners and independent mechanics to do any sort of modification or repair to any part of a motorcycle that is part of an electronic system that is protected by digital rights management (DRM).

Though untested, one could also interpret provisions from the DMCA to include any mechanical component that affects an electronic component, which means the provision could extend as far as to outlaw basic maintenance tasks like doing an oil change, replacing a lightbulb, or changing a tire. 

In an effort to avoid this ridiculous possibility, Massachusetts was the first state to enact what is being called Right to Repair legislation, which gave vehicle owners and independent shops legal protection from copyright violation claims that could arise from working on an automobile, as well as access to diagnostic information and equipment for these vehicles.

While the law in Massachusetts deals only with automobiles, exempting motorcycles and other vehicles, four other states (Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York) are looking to pass more sweeping legislation that would cover everything from consumer electronics like cellphones, TVs, and microwaves, as well as vehicles like motorcycles, ATVs, and side-by-sides.

Click here, and you can read the letter sent by the MIC, ROHVA, and SVIA to Nebraska State Senator Lydia Brasch (R – 16th District), the author of Nebraska’s Fair Repair Act, which deals with this very issue.

Laws like this are of course a threat to the interests represented by the MIC, ROHVA, and SVIA, as the passing of Right to Repair laws means vehicle owners would then not be forced to bring their vehicle to a dealership every time something needed to be repaired, replaced, or modified. 

OEMs justify this position with the argument that it is necessary to protect the public from garage-enthusiast owners and independent mechanics who might improperly repair or modify a motorcycle.

These trade groups argue that the only way to protect the public at large, and the vehicles owners themselves, is to insure that only factory-trained mechanics – i.e. mechanics who have paid the OEM for a certification course – are the only ones with access, by law, to do repair or modification work to a motorcycle, ATV, or side-by-side.

In reality of course, by challenging these Right to Repair laws, groups like the MIC are hoping to establish a complete vertical monopoly on vehicle servicing – controlling everything from the production and distribution of replacement parts, the training and certification of technicians, and the licensing of service centers and dealerships.

You can tell that these groups are only working for the interests of the manufacturers, as it would be a dark day for many motorcyclists if they were no longer allowed to spend their day wrenching on their bikes in their own garage.

At a higher cost though, for the independent shop owner, these actions by the MIC, ROHVA, and SVIA would almost certainly mean the loss of their livelihood.

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation

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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.

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