Buying a new car is a great feeling. But, after signing the paperwork, forking over the money and rolling off the lot, do you really own that brand new vehicle? Even if you pay cash and hold title to the car free and clear?
There isn't a clear answer, because the U.S. Copyright Office is currently hearing arguments that could affect whether you truly own your entire car when you buy it.
General Motors and John Deere are both claiming in hearings with the U.S. Copyright Office that even when someone buys a car, the software that coordinates how everything moves is customized and subject to copyright protection.
Both manufacturers are arguing that when you purchase your vehicle, that doesn't include the software that controls your car. Instead they believe you receive an "implied license" to use the software over the life of the vehicle.
If the Copyright Office sides with GM and John Deere, it would mean you don't truly own a key component of your car. This could also stop third-party mechanics from working on software-related problems, forcing you to go to the dealership for service. The Copyright Office is considering an exception that would still give third-parties the right to work on cars.
Proponents of it, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argue that restricting access could stifle competition and impede innovation. In Wired, Kyle Wiens argues that vehicle manufacturers could undermine the basic concept of ownership
Supporters of GM and John Deere argue that safety is also a key issue. If hobbyists or untrained mechanics modify the software, they could make unsafe changes or mistakes that put drivers at risk or other cars.
Jacqueline Charlesworth, general counsel for the U.S. Copyright Office, toldAutoBlog, "That's a troubling prospect that in an ordinary used-car transaction you have to be worried about whether there's been a software modification."