Apr 042015
The law applies online to social media and other web services

Automakers Say You Don’t Really Own Your Car states the Electronic Frontiers Foundation.

In their campaign to amend the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act to give vehicle owners the right to access and modify their automobiles’ software the EFF raises an important point.

Should the software licensing model be applied to these devices then purchasers don’t really own them but rather have a license to use them until the vendor deems overwise.

Cars, of course, are not the only devices where this problem arises. The core of the entire Internet of Things lies in the software running intelligent equipment, not the hardware. If that software is proprietary and closed then no purchaser of a smart device truly owns it.

Locking down the smarthome

This raises problems in smarthomes, offices and businesses where the devices people come to depend upon are ‘black boxes’ that they aren’t allowed to peer into. It’s not hard to see how in industrial or agricultural applications that arrangement will often be at best unworkable.

Four years ago tech industry leader Marc Andreessen pointed out how software is eating the world; that most of the value in an information rich economy lies in the computer programs that processes the data, not the hardware which collects and distributes it.

That shift was flagged decades ago when the initial fights over software patents occurred in the 1980s and 90s and today we’re facing the consequences of poorly thought out laws, court decisions and patent approvals that now challenge the concepts of ownership as we know it.

Is ownership outdated?

However it may well be that ‘ownership’ itself is an outdated concept. We could be entering a period where most of our possessions are leased rather than owned.

If we are in a period where ownership is an antiquated concept then does it matter that our cars, fitness bands, kettles, smoke alarms and phones are in effect owned by a corporation incorporated in Delaware that pays most of its tax in the Dutch Antilles?

Who owns the smartcar’s data?

The next question of course is if the software in our smart devices is secret and untouchable then who owns the data they generate?

Ownership of a smartcar’s data could well be the biggest issue of all in the internet of things and the collection of Big Data. That promises to be a substantial battle.

In the meantime, it may not be a good idea to tinker too much with your car’s software or the data it generates.

  4 Responses to “Who owns a smartcar’s smarts?”

  1.      I’m not quite sure I get the point of this article – perhaps there’s some subtle point I’ve missed.
         I don’t suppose many people are going to care (or even know) about the data generated by their car. But this doesn’t seem to be an entirely new thing, either. Back in my boyhood (as well as since), I bought quite a few books. Even then, copyright existed, and I didn’t own the copyright to them. But it didn’t matter, because I had my copies to read, and I certainly owned those.
         I am also currently trying to write a novel. I may use certain software to do so, and I certainly don’t own the copyright to that software – but I do have a copy of it at least. (It’s just NotePad, which is free with Windows, but I guess that doesn’t matter, because it’s included as part of the whole Windows system and presumably covered by what that cost.) And I certainly own the files I create with it, consisting of the content of my story.
         I also play the piano, and own a lot of sheet music. I don’t own the copyright to the music, but I own my paper copies, and from those I can play the music whenever I want to. (I guess with some new music still under copyright, there may be issues about public performance without permission – but that is not a situation I’ve ever had to face.)
         As I say, maybe I’ve just missed a point about this article. What’s different between now and those situations I described above?

    • The difference is Michael is the copyright owner can’t stop you playing the piano or reading the sheet music.

      In the smartcar scenario they can revoke your rights to use the device should you stop paying your subscription fee or they deem, rightly or wrongly, that you’ve breached the terms and conditions.

      We will almost certainly see the situation where manufacturers deem a product – be it a smartcar, an intelligent smoke detector or connected kettle – to be at ‘end of life’ and they simply disable it despite the fact its capable of many more years life.

      This scenario has already happened with music digital rights management and Amazon Kindles – in the latter case people found the copies of George Orwell’s 1984 that they’d paid for had been wiped from their devices without notice.

      It’s a dramatic change in the concept of ownership that will have serious ramifications.

  2. […] hoe meer de vraag opspeelt van wie de data zijn; een probleem dat nu actueel begint te worden in connected cars. Allereerst: wanneer auto’s rijdende computers worden, is dan het software licentiemodel aan de […]

  3. […] hoe meer de vraag opspeelt van wie de data zijn; een probleem dat nu actueel begint te worden in connected cars. Allereerst: wanneer auto’s rijdende computers worden, is dan het software licentiemodel aan de […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: