Gearheads learn more about copyright dispute in hearings today

Arguments On Digital Millennium Copyright Act Exemptions Begin Shortly

Car owners and independent mechanics will soon learn more on whether copyright laws could hinder their ability to repair and modify vehicles.

The US Copyright Office will hear arguments today in Los Angeles on whether it should grant exemptions in copyright law that would preserve the legal rights of citizens to tinker with their cars. Representatives of both automakers, who oppose the exemptions, and gearheads are scheduled to testify during the hearings.

Hearings are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT. We'll be there covering the proceedings, so check back here for updates throughout the day.

Every three years, the Copyright Office holds these hearings to determine whether exemptions should be granted for certain activities covered in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This is the sixth time the hearings have been held since the law's passage in 1998, but the first time the activities of mechanics and hobbyists have fallen under scrutiny.

Few would have imagined that cars could be impacted by the DMCA at the time it became law, but vehicles have since become little more than rolling computers that are controlled largely by software.

Automakers are arguing that tinkering with this software infringes upon their right to protect proprietary intellectual property, and believe the law prohibits outsiders from accessing this software without authorization. General Motors and John Deere have gone as far as arguing that customers don't actually buy their cars, they merely buy a license to use vehicles for the duration of their lifetimes.

Hundreds of organizations and citizens have written to the Copyright Office to support exemptions that would allow for their continued rights to repair, diagnose and conduct research on vehicles.

Hearings on more than two dozen potential exemptions to the DMCA's Section 1201 will be held over the next two weeks, though the majority of the six relevant to vehicles will be held today on the UCLA campus. Officials from General Motors and the Auto Alliance, the main lobbying arm of major automakers, are scheduled to speak against the exemptions.

Representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, do-it-yourself website iFixit and cyber-security expert Charlie Miller are among those scheduled to speak in favor of the exemptions. A final decision is expected in June or July.

We've covered the potential ramifications of the DMCA upon independent mechanics and car enthusiasts previously. If you're new to the topic, you can find detailed coverage here:

Nov. 25, 2014: Will copyright law stop you from working on your car in near future?
April 20, 2015: Automakers to gearheads: Stop repairing cars
May 8, 2015: Gearheads push to preserve rights to work on their own cars

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