Congress proposes anti-DRM law for cars

An unlikely pair of congressmen politicians -- Bob Barr (Libertarian Party) and Ralph Nader (Green Party) -- are jointly supporting Right-To-Repair Act of 2009 (H.R. 2057), a law that would make it legal to break the DRM on automotive systems so that independent garages can repair cars even if the manufacturers try to lock them out and then charge high rents to a select few mechanics who are given the crypto keys necessary to read the engine diagnostics:
We're all for promoting competition and consumer choice. But this bill points to a much bigger consumer issue. The problem that this law attempts to fix is the direct result of the use of computers in cars, accompanied by proprietary diagnostic tools and "lock-out codes." Sound familiar? It should, as it's the very sort of thing that can also make it difficult to repair computer systems, sell replacement garage door openers, and refill printer toner cartridges. One underlying legal problem here is the DMCA, which prohibits bypassing or circumventing "technological protection measures."

So while the Right-to-Repair Act of 2009 is legislation that deserves our support, it doesn't help those who repair things other than cars. For example, it won't help Joe Montero, who treks to the Copyright Office every three years to argue for a DMCA exemption to permit the repair and replacement of obsolete and malfunctioning software "dongles," those little hardware devices purportedly intended to prevent software piracy, but which often end up frustrating perfectly legitimate customers.

Right-to-Repair Law Proposed ... for Cars


  1. FYI, neither Barr nor Nader are congressmen. (Barr used to be in the House, but he isn’t anymore, and Nader has never been).

    They are both former presidential candidates, not congressmen.

    This is a great bill. I’d love to see it extended to all products!

  2. DRMs are a demonstration of the ill effect of powerful lobbies on government. It is so abusive that it prevents the user from using the product he paid for. This law couldn’t have been voted if the interest of all parties had been considered.

  3. OK, so who is rich and powerful enough to get something out of this? Somebody has to have been given a free pass to conquer their little part of the world. I mean, nobody gives anything away for free. Ahh got it. Fiat or somebody. I guess I wouldn’t want to be help responsible for managing GM’s old firmware either. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, yay, we got something!

    I’m guessing it was Fiat or somebody. I guess I wouldn’t want to be help responsible for managing GM’s old firmware either.

  4. wasn’t Bob Barr the guy off ‘Borat’, that ate the chese that his “…wife make. she make it from the milk from her (*THINK OF THE CHILDREN*)…”.

    watch it and see, I’m sure it is.

  5. Also Nader is technically a non-member of the green party, he is just an Independent right now. (Check his wiki article for source.)

  6. Now that our government owns most of the auto industry, there will be less resistance to this sort of thing, like making auto system control software open-source. Who knows? Maybe some wrench turner out there knows a few things about C++ or whatever and can make GM’s crappy cars run better by tweaking their computer systems.

  7. @#7: Plenty of those people exist. You just described the entire chip tuning industry.

    I’d like to see it taken a step farther and mandate full documentation of the vehicle’s computerized systems and a USB interface. I can dream, can’t I?

  8. What’s funny is that Bob Barr was a pretty terrible congressman (in terms of what I think government should do and particularly not do), but he’s been a great independent voice for increasing personal liberty as constrained by unnecessary regulation. Uh…wait…he’s a….real conservative!

    The libertarian label has always bugged me because it’s practically like saying you’re a utopian capitalist. What I’ve heard from Barr since he left office is often a lot of very sensible ideas–and some crazy ones, but he doesn’t seem to get much traction on the crazy ones.

  9. The original VW Beetle (air-cooled, type 1)– the original open-source car– ANYBODY can fix an old Bug.

  10. The only Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealer within an easy drive of me is one of the ones that got the axe last week. Who’s going to tweak the local Chrysler control modules once he goes under (without doing some fancy computer footwork)?

  11. BTW, it couldn’t have happened to a better example of the customer-reaming, cigar-chomping, bad-suit-wearing stereotype. That dealer is the primary reason we bought a Honda last time we got a new car, despite an employee discount from Chrysler.

  12. The thing about this law is that it’s actually a very clever way to introduce the real problem with DRM into the zeitgeist. Pretty much anybody you talk to who’s ever worked on their own car can understand why DRM on your car is a bad idea. Whereas these same people may not see such a clear problem with DRM on your computer.

    So in fact I think this law helps us (geeks) hugely, even though the actual intended effect of the law probably doesn’t affect us, because it identifies a new constituency that shares and understands our goals. If every gearhead in the country starts to understand the importance of the freedom to crack DRM, that’s a big win for us.

  13. True that, Mellon; anyone who’s ever had to take the car in to the dealer for the SOLE PURPOSE of having the ^&%&\*& ‘check engine’ light turned off (NOT because it is actually indicating a need for mechanical attention) should ‘see the light’. Pun intended.

  14. The concept of restoring a 1968 Chevy becomes not only reasonable but economical. That doesn’t help reduce pollution but the big three never gave a damn about that anyway.

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