EFF: ECU Modification May Result In DMCA Notice

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

Planning to work on your new car? Pray you don’t receive a DMCA notice upon opening the hood.

Per Autoblog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says modifying the ECUs’ code could be seen as an act of copyright violation should the automaker and/or the supplier decide to make it so. Thus, the non-profit is asking the U.S. Copyright Office to exempt hobbyists and shade-tree mechanics from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, specifically Section 1201 ( which we’ve talked about before).

For now, modifications to the ECU, such as boosting fuel economy or horsepower, would void a given warranty at worse. As automakers continue toward the path of consolidation, though, the potential profit in the untapped remapping market would be enough for them to lock out competitors and grab all rights to the technology.

However, a ruling could curb those DMCA notices: a 2012 case involving Lexmark and printer cartridges resulted in the decision that “companies like Lexmark cannot use the DMCA in conjunction with copyright law to create monopolies of manufactured goods for themselves.” The ruling provides protection for the original work, but not to the extent of using security measures — such as those lovely, Red Book-violating CDs from the 2000s — to protect said work.

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Nov 26, 2014

    This is highly unlikely; unlike Lexmark, Keurig or any company that makes movies and CDs, there's no financial incentive for automakers to prosecute their own customers for screwing with an ECU. It's not like you're going to copy the firmware from the Hellcat to an SRT-8 and magically get a few hundred extra horses. They'll just deny you warranty support, which is what cellphone manufacturers do: increment a counter or add a tripwire in firmware that tips them off if you messed with it. Which, frankly, is fine. The point of the DMCA and the like is to lower the barrier of enforcement so that rights-holders don't actually have to try to make decent encryption; they can just do something incredibly lame (like, say, ROT13'ing a file) and call it "encryption" which you would be liable for bypassing. Rentier capitalism at it's best.

    • See 1 previous
    • Mik101 Mik101 on Nov 27, 2014

      @Toad Some places in Canada already do for say removing catalytic converters. The shop fine I believe is $10,000 where I am. The owners fine is something like an order of magnitude less.

  • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Nov 26, 2014

    What a load of horses***.

  • Cabriolet Cabriolet on Nov 26, 2014

    Many aftermarket tuners are supplying programs for various vehicles. On my VW GTI i could purchase various stages of tunes up to approx 300 HP. Some of these tunes are being offered by various VW dealers and they claim it will not effect the warranty. About once a month i go to the VW GTI forums and someone is having a problem with a dealer not wanting to do warranty work because the car was "tuned". In my eyes if you have the car "tuned" you will push the car harder then you would a stock engine therefore putting the drive train under additional pressure and causing something to brake under the additional pressure. I have always used a VacCom program on all the VWs my wife and i have owned because their are various options i can open in the computer like opening and locking the car and lowering and closing the windows while i am in the house in case of rain. New cars are not like 20 years ago when you could change the cam, change around a few cab jets etc.

  • Jacob_coulter Jacob_coulter on Nov 26, 2014

    Sometimes copyrights are enforced by companies for no logical reason. Just to limit some unforeseen liability. I agree that a car manufacturer has no reason to go draconian in an areas like this, but I could see some absurd case where the EPA brings charges against them because don't enforce their copyright laws. The amount of additional pollution that comes from a modded ECU is not even a rounding error. A weed wacker probably pollutes more than 10,000 cars with altered ECUs. But never underestimate how ridiculous the legal system or government agencies can get in this country.