Sunday, January 24, 2016

I BOUGHT my car, Jack.

As with most laws, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) has had disastrous unintended consequences. One of these is communicated in this recent Slate article:

It's not just tractors, it's all vehicles. Auto makers now claim that we don't actually own the cars we buy... we license them. This is a bit more disturbing than computer operating systems. Microsoft doesn't claim to own your Dell. But because the software is embedded and citing such concerns as safety (after all, think of the children), the automakers are claiming that nope... nobody gets access to the computer except licensed, authorized (aka paying) maintenance technicians.

Reacting to a desire for tinkering, Ford has developed what they hope to be a standard way of extending an automobile's capabilities with "vehicle-aware applications", the OpenXC open source platform:

While this is a step in the right direction, it is a simply method of loading more electronics onto your car without "bricking" your $20,000 automotive investment. It does not address the ECU (Engine Control Unit), which remains verboten. It does not allow true tinkering down to the metal. "No hot-rodding for you," snaps the Auto Nazi.

Sadly, we live in an environment where people see other people arbitrarily controlling the minutiae of strangers' lives, and they come away from that experience with both a desire to do it themselves, and the perverted expectation that this is normal behavior. This is perhaps to be expected in a world that confuses the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution with a hunting license, but the analogy is disturbingly close. More, and more... and in more and more products... we see ourselves locked out of ownership of the things we bought due to increased reliance on computer code in embedded processors. This includes products for which there is no rational need for a processor (toasters come to mind). The fact of the matter is, I don't want a car that drives itself, that connects to the Internet, that is a wi-fi hub, that can be hacked using a discoverable code such as the VIN or license number, that can be bricked or even unlocked remotely. I don't want it whether it done maliciously, or accidentally, or deliberately by the police.

I don't want it. I don't want it so much that I went to great lengths to buy an older model of the car I like so as to avoid these unnecessary "features".

This isn't a matter of some desire to tinker together a new instrument panel. It's a basic measure of my Freedom that makes me insist on clear legal ownership of those things that I clearly own by right of purchase. If I cannot exercise that right due to encumbered components, then I should have the right to remove them so as not to infringe on the copyrights held so dear to those who hold them.

Bottom line for car manufacturers: I know you think your copyrighted material is terribly valuable, but I don't want it. It's worse than worthless to me... it prevents me from buying a car that is so encumbered at all.

In automobiles, the need for computerization is there and is rational, as computer-controlled fuel injection has long replaced carburetion. As that is the case, then the rational response of the citizenry, were they to have actual control over the laws enacted for the Public Good, should be to insist that the hardware of the car be legally divorced from the software. The ECU should be subject to competition, as should the maintenance of vehicles. I should be able to replace the encumbered operating system with one of my choice.

Recognizing the problem, there's an opportunity for a cottage industry of Open Source engine control units, and people who recognize it. Hackaday reported on such a project in 2014. The rusEFI Wiki is a source for current information on this project.

However, such projects still potentially run foul of copyright and patent claims of automakers who insist that you don't own what you own. What is needed is a revision of those laws that continue to separate us from our rights as individuals in areas never envisioned.

P.S. Thanks to Caleb for this related topic:

The Ethical Dilemma of Self-Driving Cars
Who should your robot car kill? The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars:
Posted by TED-Ed on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

1 comment:

  1. "...a world that confuses the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution with a hunting license,..."

    -- Brilliant! I love it! I'd like to steal --er, USE-- that in my own writings, if you don't mind. I do hope you're not going to tie me up in copyright disputes over that, since that would be hypocritical - - but even if you do, I'll probably just use it anyway. (I'm not writing for publication, anyway - - just well-reasoned (I swear!), logical (ditto!), lengthy rebuttals to political BS on Facebook.) I'd like to be able to say that I'll give you proper credit - - and I *will* do the *best I can*, by being sure my readers know that "I read (it) somewhere," rather than claiming, or letting them assume, that it's my own creation - - but the sad and simple fact is that my memory isn't that good. By the time I have occasion to use it, I won't remember where I saw it - - and I don't know your *name* even as I write these words. I could promise to link to this page, from my post(s), and I'll have it bookmarked just in case - - but I'm not sufficiently well organized to be able to promise I'll be able to *find* that bookmark when I'd like to. L'ADD, c'est moi.