Aaron Lowe, senior vice president, regulatory and government affairs, Auto Care Association, recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee in a hearing regarding whether legislative revisions are needed to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In his testimony, Lowe pointed to the major changes to automotive technology that have occurred since the passage of DMCA in 1998. Lowe expressed that no one could have anticipated back then that today’s vehicles would become “computers on wheels.” Presently, vehicle manufacturers are increasingly using firmware and software to control the function and operation of nearly every motor vehicle part, according to Lowe’s testimony. In his testimony, Lowe pointed to figures from Dorman Industries which demonstrated that in 2001, a Chevy Suburban had only nine electronic control modules, but a 2021 version of the same SUV now has 103 modules.
Congress enacted the DMCA to protect expressive work from being copied through circumvention of software.
“Over the last several years, original equipment manufacturers of motor vehicles (OEMs) have attempted to wield Section 1201 of the DMCA as an offensive weapon to stop consumers and businesses from competing to repair or customize their vehicles, or to supply replacement parts for these vehicles,” Lowe testified. “Through the use of technological protection measures (TPM), manufacturers have attempted to prevent access to software by independents to the development of replacement parts and the ability to undertake vehicle repair.”
Lowe recommended that Congress should consider amending the DMCA to ensure it cannot be used to provide for otherwise lawful use of software. Lowe further called on the subcommittee to look at the need to have aftermarket tools capable of working with multiple makes and models of vehicles.
“Given the number of software routines in each car, the complexity of the software and the robustness of technological measures, a single consumer would find it daunting to circumvent and repair every possible module in a motor vehicle without assistance,” Lowe said.
A copy of the complete Auto Care Association testimony from this hearing can be found here.