·  by Mike Godwin

General Motors says it’s just loaning you your car’s software

Originally Posted On: R Street

Imagine a world in which automakers declared that, even though you own most of the vehicle you purchased from your auto dealer, you don’t own the tires. No, in fact, you just have a license to use the tires, the Big Three might say. If you want to get them changed or improved, you need to go to dealer who is authorized by the automaker to do so.

Crazy, huh? But that’s essentially the position that General Motors has taken in a U.S. Copyright Office proceeding. In this case, the subject matter is not whether you own the tires that came with your new car, but whether you own a copy of the software that came with it.

Whether you own the software in your car, and whether you have the right to change or modify that software or hire someone to do it for you, is something that actually matters. You may not want to be forced into a lifetime-of-the-product relationship with the company who made your car. And whether you buy a used car or a new one, wouldn’t you like to be certain that you’re free to consult with third-party software mechanics to fix or improve it? That’s exactly what you do when find an independent garage to get your tires changed or replace your brake lights.

Your right to tinker with something you’ve bought is a consumer issue, not just a copyright issue. That’s why the Copyright Office has said you can tinker with the software on your smartphone. It’s also why, in addition to a favorable ruling from the Copyright Office on the auto-software issue—exactly the same issue raised by John Deere’s lamentable letter to farm-equipment dealers—we need to see passage of the Your Own Devices Act (YODA), sponsored by Rep. Blake Farenthold,  R-Texas.