Copyright Law DMCA - Do You Own Your Car (Or Tractor)?

There are some interesting developments going on in the world of Copyright Law, specifically, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA was passed in the 90s ostensibly to protect against hackers breaking digital locks or protection on software. However, manufacturers are now using it as a basis to challenge some fundamental concepts people have about ownership of the products they buy. The latest example comes from John Deere who recently told the Copyright Office that, due to the heavy use of software code in modern tractors, farmers do not own their tractors. Instead, they have "an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle." Other vehicle manufacturers have made similar arguments, namely, General Motors. Anyone who has had to have a new key FOB made for their modern vehicles I imagine has first hand experience of how much control vehicle manufacturers can retain over vehicles through software. My opinion is that there will be a day of reckoning on when and how consumers can modify the software to products they buy. The ad hoc process currently being employed by the Copyright Office is not tenable. Today it is legal (subject to certain restrictions) to hack your smartphone but it may not be legal to modify the software in your tractor in similar ways. In any event, it should be interesting to see where the copyright office comes down on the debate.

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