GM says you don't own your car, you just license it

GM has joined with John Deere in asking the government to confirm that you literally cannot own your car because of the software in its engine.

Like Deere, GM wants to stop the Copyright Office from granting an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would allow you to jailbreak the code in your car's engine so that you can take it to a non-GM mechanic for service, or fix it yourself. By controlling who can service your car, GM can force you to buy only official, expensive parts, protecting its bottom line.

As Consumerist quips, GM wants you to know that the car in the driveway is "literally not your father's Oldsmobile."

GM’s claim is all about copyright and software code, and it’s the same claim John Deere is making about their tractors. The TL;DR version of the argument goes something like this:

* Cars work because software tells all the parts how to operate

* The software that tells all the parts to operate is customized code

* That code is subject to copyright

* GM owns the copyright on that code and that software

* A modern car cannot run without that software; it is integral to all systems

* Therefore, the purchase or use of that car is a licensing agreement

* And since it is subject to a licensing agreement, GM is the owner and can allow/disallow certain uses or access.

GM: That Car You Bought? We’re Really The Ones Who Own It. [Kate Cox/Consumerist]

(Image: A.P. Giannini, Eric E Castro, CC-BY)

Notable Replies

  1. Aren't there giant stacks of case law related to 3rd-party parts and repairs of automobiles being specifically OK?

    Also, although I haven't read the article, wouldn't asserting that cars aren't owned but rather licensed make more than a few enormous lending institutions that hold notes on millions of cars more than a little grumpy?

  2. This ruling would lead to us almost owning nothing that we currently own. If this argument is valid, then anything with software would no longer be ours. TVs, Xbox, computer, phone, blu ray player, Electronic scale...the list would be huge, probably advanced appliances. This would be a consumer and economic nightmare, if not a destruction of our whole economy.

  3. What a fucking contemptuously mundane dystopia this is turning out to be.

  4. xzzy says:

    If I don't own the car that means I can return it to the dealer and stop paying for it whenever I want, right?

  5. I'm now imagining a truly open-source car. The Local Motors Rally Fighter is close, but it has a GM engine and transmission.

    Perhaps some kind of Lotus Seven clone? No electronics beyond what's required to make it street-legal, and that should be open-source.

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