Following in the footsteps of my recent article “Come Take it, I Deere You” I’ve found through Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow that General Motors (GM) has also declared that you don’t really own what you buy.
To be more specific, the software that makes up that vehicle is merely “licensed” to the owner of the car. This was directly stated by the GM attorney Harry Lightsey who said, “It is our position the software in the vehicle is licensed by the owner of the vehicle…”
Lightsey’s comments came from a hearing done through the US Copyright Office about whether independent mechanics are allowed to repair cars on their own terms. The results of this seem clear. First of all, the prices would be easier to raise due to artificial monopolies in favor of GM. Second, there would be less innovating these coding systems because they’d be closed off and not open source. All of this looks like a promising start for the consumer, right?
But you don’t even need to go that far to see that GM could care less about the consumer. A tell-tale sign could instead be found in the very use of intellectual property to “defend” what’s “theirs”. IP is a costly concept that closes far more doors than it opens. It creates artificial enclosure movements on things that wouldn’t otherwise be as scarce.
Thus, GM, Deere and other similar companies who rely on IP for their profits continue to be some of the best examples of how capitalism goes against the forces of freed markets.
But in case you’re curious about GM’s side still, Katie Cox from the Consumerist gives us a helpful tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version of the GM argument:
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.
Well, what makes the “subject to copyright” legitimate to begin with? What makes GM’s claim of ownership legitimate? How is the licensing agreement naturally following from the integrability of the software? And doesn’t having the title of the car override any licensing agreement? Are cars going to be just reducible to the code that helps them function in the future?
My last concern is echoed by game commentator Jim Sterling who, in his video “R.I.P. P.T. – Why We Can’t Keep Nice Things” points out, “It’s ironic, really. Digital content doesn’t age. It’s basically perfect for the preservation of video games. And yet it’s where games are at their most frail. Their least permanent.”
Likewise, when what was ours is reduced to its digital components how can we prevent a similar frailty from developing?
The answer lies within anarchism.
Undoing corporate privilege and corporations wholesale by fighting the state and the way it has enabled IP protectionism is a good start. We can jump-start that effort by encouraging hackers, independent fixers and the general DIY ethic within our culture. Our final goal should be to create fluid and dynamic movements and networks that can effectively and consistently harass, undermine and route around the damage that these big corporations and the state cause.
GM Deeres to be stupid, let’s dare to be anarchists.