U.S. Copyright Office Agrees to Extending DMCA Vehicle Repair Exemption

On Oct. 26, the U.S. Copyright Office announced a proposal to renew an exemption for vehicle owners to perform maintenance and repairs without having to abide by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. The proposal was in response to a petition filed by the Auto Care Association, Consumer Technology Association and iFixit, seeking continued access by individuals to the software and systems embedded in modern motor vehicles.

The Copyright Office acknowledged that the petition “demonstrated the continuing need and justification for the exemption to prevent owners of motorized land vehicles from being adversely impacted in their ability to diagnose, repair and modify their vehicles as a result of TPMs (technological protection measures) that protect the copyrighted computer programs on the electronic control units (ECUs) that control the functioning of the vehicles.”

The Auto Care Association had also petitioned the Copyright Office to expand the exemption to include access to software that controls telematics and entertainment systems, to permit third parties to provide services on behalf of owners of motor vehicles, and to permit the development and sale of repair tools and solutions.

The Copyright Office acknowledged that a similar petition to include telematics and entertainment systems had been filed in 2015, but that the “record did not support extending the exemption to ECUs primarily designed for the control of telematics or entertainment systems.” The agency also expressed concern over whether expanding the exemption to third-party tool providers would violate the DMCA’s anti-trafficking prohibitions and requested public comment on whether the expansion of the exemption should be approved. The automakers have gone on record opposing any expansion of the exemption. The agency is seeking comment on whether an expanded exemption to cover additional repair and related activities should be adopted, including any proposed regulatory language.