So, who really owns your #Jeep, anyway? (And, why you should care!)

Many of us kick off a new work week today, scraping and clawing our way to earn another dollar to bestow on our beloved, greenback-swallowing Jeeps. And, for many, the week’s goal is to make it to the weekend, when we can blissfully turn a few wrenches on our Jeeps, maybe tweak the engine tune for an extra horsepower or two.

But, what if such shade-tree hobbies ran afoul of the law? Could playing backyard mechanic really incur the wrath of Uncle Sam? And, what about private auto shops? Could an entire industry be wiped from existence with a Congressional edict or a stroke from the president’s pen?

If nearly 20 of the world’s largest auto manufacturers — including Jeep’s parent, Fiat Chrysler — have their way, such an Orwellian scenario could very well become reality.

What did you really pay for?

The innocuous-sounding Auto Alliance is attempting to persuade federal regulators the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, applies to the software, design and other proprietary technology in every modern automobile. In an exercise now very familiar to technology geeks and audiophiles across the fruited plain, DMCA allows creative content publishers like Microsoft or your favorite musical artist to retain full ownership rights of their content after consumer sales. Essentially, that means when you purchase a computer or CD, you’re not purchasing the content, only the right to enjoy it within the boundaries set forth by its creator.

To bring the discussion back to our aforementioned shade tree, the involved automakers argue that, as cars become increasingly more digitally connected, would-be music thieves will find creative ways to steal the tunes directly from a vehicle’s infotainment system. The only solution, they say, is to ban any intrusion or alteration of a vehicle’s electrical system.

But, aren’t you exaggerating? 

That the automakers can only bar such intrusion if they retain ownership of the vehicle isn’t in question here, as that’s exactly what Auto Alliance asserts. Further, the alliance also claims giving ordinary consumers and/or private mechanics the authority to modify their vehicles represents a clear danger to public health.

What of the fact that only manufacturer-approved service providers (specifically, those dealer shops that have faced mighty financial struggles for a decade now) would be permitted to perform work on your car, truck or SUV if Auto Alliance gets its way? Well, that’s just a very convenient coincidence.

No, really.

Consider, too, the ramifications if any such regulations were enacted and made retroactive to DMCA’s passage. Millions of do-it-yourself vehicle owners could suddenly face a very unwelcome, very costly de facto tax burden.

And, sadly, the list of manufacturers pushing for DMCA protections is quite long. A quick web search turned up these companies (though there may be others):

  • General Motors
  • BMW Group
  • Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles US, LLC
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Jaguar-Land Rover
  • John Deere
  • Mazda
  • Mercedes-Benz USA
  • Mitsubishi Motors
  • Porsche
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen Group of America
  • Volvo Cars North America

Are you mad yet?

If this sort of freedom-robbing, heavy-handed power grab doesn’t get your blood boiling, I’d suggest you apply for the role of extra in The Lego Movie sequel. Every red-blooded American auto enthusiast, at this point, is wondering how he or she can stop this idea faster than a well-maintained set of antilock brakes.

Of course, the first step is to contact your elected representatives in Washington, D.C., (house and senate) and voice your feelings about Auto Alliance’s efforts. If you’re so inclined, you might also check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a government watchdog aiming to stop Auto Alliance and similar measures. (Like any activist group, EFF has its pros and cons; this report should not in any way be construed as an endorsement of the group or its mission.) EFF has petitioned the United States Copyright Office regarding the automakers’ claims, and hopes to keep drivers in control of their vehicles for years to come.

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