This is going to take a minute to get to the point as to why this matters to you as a gearhead, so hang with me here. A group of farmers in Nebraska, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New York are fed up with not being able to work on their own equipment.
This all goes back to 1998 when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed. The name of this Act doesn’t lead one to believe it would have anything to do with farming equipment, it sounds like something that would protect gaming creators or something along those lines, at least to me — but don’t let this innocent little name fool you! It’s this little piece of legislation that has prevented farmers from being able to legally repair their own tractors, or get repair help from an independent mechanic.
In a few easy spins, the Act covers the software that helps run the sensors, diagnostic tools, and other technological elements of the tractors. If an unauthorized person even checks these elements, they could be violating the Federal Act. This could be an action as simple as checking a system code to determine if there’s a problem with the machine.
What’s the logic behind this? An example would be that John Deere, the well-known farm equipment manufacturer, believes that giving farmers legal access to the computer/software would make it possible for people to copy their programming.
Are you starting to see this all take shape now? I told you it would take a minute, but we’re rounding the corner to the point here.
So, replace the word “tractor” with “car”, and here we are, we have arrived at how this Federal Act is a threat to anyone who has ever run a diagnostic scan, changed out a sensor, etc. on their own vehicle.
The logical question to ask is, if this Act has been around since 1998, why would it effect car owners now? Because the auto makers have been trying hard to use this in their favor, they’ve just been unsuccessful, thus far. Exemptions in this Act grant people to have parts of the computer software that runs their car, and those exemptions are at a constant threat.
Just last year, the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, and separately John Deer and GM, had the audacity to try and limit and/or prevent vehicle owners from being able to access the car’s PCM/ECM, etc. They specifically called out anyone who wanted to customize, diagnose, or repair anything connected to the access of the several on-board computers — and in today’s modern vehicle, that would essentially cover any and every part on the car! They fell on their faces this round, but the fight is never-ending on the issue.
It’s not just the auto makers either, the EPA (which has already tried to burn gearheads recently) fear that consumers will use this exemption to increase engine performance.
As far as I’m concerned, when you buy a vehicle, you own it, but the way the manufacturer’s are carrying on, it makes it seem like you’re simply leasing part of it (the technology) and have to abide by their terms. If they want to play it that way, they need to give me a little kick back on my car payments since I apparently don’t own my entire car, just certain parts of it.
At the end of the day, it’s not just this conditional faux “ownership” that concerns me, it’s the limitations to modify your own vehicle, or heck, even just repair it.
Bottom Line: Auto manufacturers and the EPA need to stop policing our vehicles. This poses such a major risk to both the automotive aftermarket industry (let’s not forget about the economic impact of limiting this industry), and our hobby/way of life as gearheads!
“While this particular skirmish is regarding farm equipment, the Digital Millennium Copyright act has led to automotive enthusiasts/manufacturers that modify the factory software/electronics coming under increased scrutiny. Outside of the EPA threat, this is likely the next largest legislative threat to our industry.” -Chris Douglas, VP of Marketing of COMP Performance Group & SEMA Volunteer
Coming full circle… Whatever the outcome of the farmer’s fight on the issue is, it will set the tone for similar circumstances/cases. If they are denied the right to work on their own equipment, this will likely spell out something bad for our side of the fight in the future. Should it turn out favorably for the farmers, it’s a good platform for our pushback against legislation which would prevent us from working on the cars we own.
We will be following this situation closely, and bring you any developments in their fight here, stay tuned!