Library of Congress OKs modification of car software

Until recently, it was illegal for owners to unlock their smartphones, which basically constituted modifying the device's software, because it was deemed to be a violation of copyright laws. While that issue has more or less become moot this year, the fight seems to have now shifted to cars, as more and more vehicles include sophisticated infotainment software into the latest models. According to the Library of Congress' new guidelines, car owners don't violate copyright laws when they modify the car's software, a position strongly opposed by many in the auto industry.

As cars get smarter and incorporate more software, there will naturally be an urge for many owners to tinker with it. We've seen it happen to computers before and to smartphones more recently. The reason for such modifications might are many, from squeezing out performance to just having fun. The Library of Congress, the government body charged with drawing up the rules regarding copyright, says that car owners aren't criminally liable if they do so, provided they don't commit any other unlawful act in the process or as a result of modifying said software.

Car makers are naturally opposed to the idea. On principle, just like smartphone makers, they are opposed to users modifying their software, sometime in fear of possible piracy. But they are also trying to make an appeal to safety and security. Allowing car software to be legally modifiable would open up a can of worms, so they say, allowing sensitive vehicle information to be leaked or even altered. Somewhere down the line, it could even give hackers insight on how to break through the car software's security.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA has voiced its concern about the new rules. Modifying car software is sometimes done to boost engine output but most of the time at the expense of breaking compliance with emission standards and breaking the laws set by the Clean Air Act. After the fiasco involving Volkswagen, which caught the EPA by surprise, the last thing they need is for individual car owners to follow suit.

The Library of Congress does set some limits to the software modification. For one, owners who commit crimes resulting from the modification aren't immune just because it's OK to modify the software. So if one breaks the Clean Air Act or steals and resells the car software, they are liable for those crimes. For another, data sent and received by car systems are themselves protected by copyright and are not included in these new rules. Considering the safety implications of process of modifying car software, just because you could doesn't always mean you should.

SOURCE: Channel NewsAsia