Fixing a device or machine? Watch out for DMCA

Missed this one from January: “Before I Can Fix This Tractor, We Have to Fix Copyright Law.” Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it surprisingly complicated as a legal matter to perform repairs on software-containing products [Kyle Wiens, Slate]


  • Sales of John Deere equipment are down and the company is laying off people. Perhaps their proprietary EMS software that forces the Farmer/Owner to use only the approved repair and parts network is a big reason why.

    I’ll add also that the first equipment maker who makes its EMS open source, and heavily promotes that fact, e.g.”Fix It Yourself !!!’, will grab a lot of market share.

    Finally, attention the folks who make aftermarket high performance EMS chips for muscle cars and diesel pick-up trucks – a limitless market opportunity beckons!!

    Just a thought.


  • I saw something a few weeks ago about it being illegal under the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act for a dealer or manufacturer to void a warranty for not using a manufacturer approved repair shop or performing DIY repairs. They would have to show that you, or the service provider you chose to do the repairs. This act applies to vehicles, electronics (such as a computer), etc.

    • Jonathan, the “tie on sales” provision of the MMWA was intended to keep (for instance) Major Auto Mfg from selling you a cheap car, then making their profit by demandind that you only use Major Auto Mfg’s motor oil, power steering fluid, spark plugs, air filters, etc to enjoy the benefit of your express limited warranty provisions.

      Its been expanded in practice to prevent a major auto mfg from denying warranty service when the vehicle has been modified from its design intent by way of lift kits, upholstery changes, oversized wheels and tires, high intensity discharge headlamps, emissions defeat devices and software changes to the Powertrain Control Module and related electrical components.

      In my experience as someone who used to work for a major auto mfg, and spoke with the representatives of most other major auto mfgs (I am not an attorney, this is not legal advice, etc etc), no major auto mfg would seriously suggest that an upholstery modification would render you engine limited warranty an effective nullity. Dealerships, however, are independently owned and operated and have an incentive (in most states) to claim something isn’t covered, because they can charge the customer more for the parts and labor than they can charge the mfg for it. More often than not, however, dealer personnel simply make a mistake – best to contact the mfg while you are sitting in the waiting room, and your car is in the shop than otherwise. Of course, the reverse also happens – dealers (sales staff, primarily) often modify vehicles before sale (high markups on most of those), generally w/o MFG approved parts or in unapproved ways, then direct their service department to bill repairs to those changes under the Mfg’s warranty. Wheel/tire combination changes and sunroof additions are very popular examples.

      Later, IF the car/truck has repeat problems, a dissatisfied customer may try to bring “Lemon Law”, “Mag-Moss”, CLRA or similar claims for a refund or other financial compensation. Sadly, the level of proof required to absolutely show (assuming you can empanel a jury sophisticated enough to follow the math, AND willing to put their prejudices aside) that the modifications caused the problems at issue often exceeds the cost of the vehicle in question. Add one way fee shifting towards plaintiff’s lawyers (which in some states like CA and WV can exceed the value of the car BY AN ORDER OF MAGNITUDE OR MORE) in the event customer gets any recovery, even much less than demanded – and it becomes a rare thing for an MFG to defend a warranty case on a modified vehicle issue, because its simply not cost effective. I didn’t involve myself with personal injury cases – assume, due to the dramatically different damages calculations that mfgs probably defend more often in those claims.

      I’m sure (because I’ve heard it thousands of times, across the nation, from consumers, attorneys, state legislators, their staff, and state consumer protection bureaus) that many see a manufacturer’s inability to cost effectively defend themselves from non warranty claims as a net benefit to consumers. There is certainly a huge industry (SEMA) making huge profits on modifications they rarely have to defend. Personally, I think the consumer is harmed – upholstery modifications can affect the air bag system’s ability to detect a passenger, and to determine whether stage 1 or stage 2 deployment (based on detected speed of deceleration and approximated mass of the passenger) is appropriate in a crash. Oversized tires (too tall) and wheels, as well as lift kits alter the center of gravity of the vehicle, affecting airbag deployment in roll overs (too soon, or too early). Overwide tires result in premature tire wear to the inner edge, allowing tire failures (often while turning) while the outer edge of the tire appears to have plenty of tread left. Can also damage body and suspension components. Sun roofs leak. Extra wheel weight is multiplied in force applied to the differential when one tire free spins and the other does not (usually, off roading) causing catastrophic failures of the rear differential. Virtually all of us have been momentarily blinded by after manufacture HID lights that were the wrong color (usually, too blue) and aimed improperly. They also use a ballast system to ramp up voltage, requiring wiring modifications that can result in insufficient power for other devices (like the AIR pump) during highway deceleration at night, affecting vehicle emissions. Biodiesel is a more polar molucule, which adheres to the sides of cylinder walls better that conventional diesel, displacing oil. This increases engine wear, can result in oil/fuel mixes that damage pumps, and the higher wax levels tend to foul injectors. “Chipping” a car with alter PCM programming for increased power alters fuel/air mixes primarily, and again often results in increased engine wear, premature detonation under some conditions, and emissions failures (check the CARB – California Air Resources Board – for when they last approved a device for on road use – yet they produces sell tons of them in that state). The consumer isn’t rewarded for their ignorance – at best, assuming no fatalities, someone else is left holding the bag for it, and increasing prices in response.

      I’ve seen all these cases, and heard explanations from the jury after awarding damages to the consumer that simply dismay. “You should have expected people to modify their vehicle, and planned for it.” “It was your dealer, its your fault they modified the vehicle in ways you didn’t approve, then billed repairs to your warranty” (the Dealer body is not only independently owned and operated, but state franchise laws prevent Mfgs in virtually every case from owning dealers directly [i.e. Tesla’s recent examples], or significantly affecting their day to day operations. The dealer body is one of the strongest (and least visible) industry groups out there – in point of fact, “Lemon Laws” are primarily the result of the dealer body lobbying for it, not consumers, since it shifted liability away from them when they sold a piece of unreliable junk.

      and with that, I’m getting off my soap box. Again, I’m not licensed to practice in any state, I’m not an attorney, this isn’t intended to be legal advice, I don’t work for any auto mfg now, but used to provide them certain services, and my opinions are solely my own, not to be attributed to my former employer(s).

  • Incomplete sentence in my comment above.

    ” They would have to show that you, or the service provider you chose to do the repairs.” should go on to say; caused the problem through an improper repair.

  • The cited article mentions the Electronic Frontier Foundation as lobbying for a change in the law.

    The EFF has now gone a step further and is suing the government on behalf of several people.

    The complaint can be found here: