General Motors: Cars software belongs to us, even if you buy this car

Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Jared Polis discovered that Section 1201 of DMCA's broken anti circumvention laws. Last week they introduced a bill to fix this part of the DMCA. Thanks to DMCA 1201, John Deer claims it still owns the tractor you thought you bought it from it, instead, John Deer claims you're really just licensing that tractor:

In the absence of an express written license in conjunction with the purchase of the vehicle, the vehicle owner receives an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle, subject to any warranty limitations, disclaimers or other contractual limitation in the sales contract or documentation.

Such comments come in response to the ridiculous triennial review process in which the Librarian of Congress reviews requests to "exempt" certain cases from Section 1201's rules against circumvention. Of course, lots of car companies are against this bill, including GM, which argues that all hell will break loose if people can diagnose problems in their own cars' computers. It, too, thinks that you don't really own your car and worries that people are mixed up in thinking they own the software that makes the car they bought run:

Proponents incorrectly conflate ownership of a vehicle with ownership of the underlying computer software in a vehicle.... Although we currently consider ownership of vehicle software instead of wireless handset software, the law's ambiguity similarly renders it impossible for Proponents to establish that vehicle owners own the software in their vehicles (or even own a copy of the software rather than have a license), particularly where the law has not changed.

But the real conflation here is by GM, John Deere, and others, in thinking that because they hold a copyright to some software, that somehow gives them ownership over what you do with the copy you legally purchased with the car itself. Once that purchase is concluded, the vehicle owners should be seen to have given up any proprietary interest in the single vehicle you bought. But thanks to copyright and Section 1201, that's an issue that faces "uncertainty." And that's a problem.

The companies lay out a parade of horribles that will happen if people can circumvent the DRM they put in their vehicles, mostly focused on the idea that people might soup up their car, making it dangerous. But that's not a copyright issue. People have always souped up cars, and before there was software in cars, no one argued that Ford could prevent you from turning your Mustang into a drag racer. It's only copyright that has rewritten the very concept of ownership in a dangerous way.

But, by far, the most ridiculous in the "parade of horribles" comes from John Deere who was really stretching to try to come up with some way to pretend this is really about copyright issues. It argues that allowing farmers to modify the software in their tractors might lead those farmers to (and I am not making this up), listen to infringing musicwhile they farm.

Moreover, TPMs for vehicle software for entertainment systems protects copyright owners of copyrighted content against the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works. For example, vehicle software for entertainment systems supports the playing of copyrighted music files and copyrighted audio books, among other expressive works. A vehicle driver may listen to sound recordings, while passengers may watch or view television and movie content. TPMs for in-vehicle entertainment systems encourage content providers to create and distribute highly-expressive copyrighted works that might otherwise be easily copied or pirated if the TPMs were circumvented. Consequently, circumvention of the above TPMs for purposes of "personalization, modification, or other improvement" is likely to encourage the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, and use of copyrighted software and content.

But all it really does is highlight the sheer ridiculousness of Section 1201 and how it's destroying property rights.

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