General Motors: You Don’t Really Own That Car You Bought, You’re Just Leasing It From Us

GM says you may own your car, but you don't own the software, so don't touch it!

GM’s claim is all about copyright and software code, and it’s the same claim John Deere is making about their tractors. The TL;DR version of the argument goes something like this:

  • Cars work because software tells all the parts how to operate
  • The software that tells all the parts to operate is customized code
  • That code is subject to copyright
  • GM owns the copyright on that code and that software
  • A modern car cannot run without that software; it is integral to all systems
  • Therefore, the purchase or use of that car is a licensing agreement
  • And since it is subject to a licensing agreement, GM is the owner and can allow/disallow certain uses or access.

The U.S. Copyright Office is currently holding a series of hearings on whether or not anyone other than the manufacturer of a car has a right to tinker with that car’s copyrighted software. And with the way modern design goes, that basically means with the car, at all.

Folks who like to tinker with their cars, as well as independent (non-dealer) mechanics say they need the copyright exemption in order to be allowed to continue repairing their own cars, or keeping their businesses open. Manufacturers, like GM, say that it’s a safety issue: if people who aren’t authorized mess with any one piece of software, they could make the entire ecosystem of connected code unsafe.

Source: Consumerist

The most obvious problem with this model is the prevention of speedy repair on private vehicles. With travel being necessary for practically everything, from driving to work or picking up groceries, GM's position, if declared legal, would create economic problems for businesses and private citizens. It's disappointing that an American auto manufacturer is so eager to make the ownership of their cars burdensome rather than liberating.



  1. Charles Fitzpatrick
  2. Ex-Spouse of GM

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