Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the West Virginia scientists who discovered that Volkswagen (VW) has been cheating on diesel emissions tests and violating EPA emissions standards for years. VW pulled this feat off by installing a special software sequence called a defeat device on its electronic control module (ECM). That software program dramatically reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by turning on strict emission controls when, and only when, the vehicle detects that it is undergoing the emission test sequence. When driving, these VW vehicles pollute far more than reported by the manufacturer.
The scientists that discovered this issue performed extensive mechanical testing on VW vehicles, they did not review or analyze the software program running on the ECM. If they had, they might have found the special algorithm designed to run during the emission testing conditions far more easily and at less expense. However, they could have violated the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA by breaking the digital rights management (DRM) technologies that protect the software code and exposed themselves and their employer to civil and criminal liability. Does the DMCA strike an appropriate balance between protection of owners’ rights and prevention of piracy vs. allowing appropriate access to discover illegal activities or safety and security issues?
Join Jennifer Atkins and Antigone Peyton in this podcast as they consider how the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA has affected the scientific research community and disrupted the normal processes relating to peer review and scientific integrity. They will also explore the complex process for requesting liability exemptions for certain activities, every three years.
*Update: After this podcast was recorded, the Copyright Office issued a ruling making exceptions for certain kind of circumventions related to automobiles. You can read that ruling here.