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US Senator takes up open source fight against... Auto Industry

By onyxruby in Technology
Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:05:14 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota has introduced legislation into Congress requiring auto manufactures to open up their diagnostic codes for auto repair. While this is not open source in the sense of the GPL, the gist of the fight is the same.

USAToday has the article with some details of the proposed legislation. In 1996 auto manufactures started to tie various parts of automobiles functionality into the emission controls computers. Unfortunately, many makes and models of cars do not have the critical diagnostic codes available to anyone other than the dealerships. The net result of this is that a significant number of cars must be repaired at the official dealership, at official dealership prices.

To quote the article about the practical ramifications of this
Bob Redding, a lobbyist for the Automotive Service Association, which represents 15,000 independent repair shop owners, said a membership survey found that 10% of cars couldn't be repaired because of a lack of codes.

That number is getting higher, he said, as newer cars replace pre-1996 models.

In other words, the automakers have taken a text from Microsoft's playbook and are playing hardball. The practical result of this is an anti-competitive behavior designed to force consumers to spend their money only on official services (diagnostics) and products (parts). The parallels between this and consumer and government efforts to open up Microsoft's source code are worth noting.

To quote the USAToday article on what the proposed legislation is seeking:

The Wellstone bill would mandate that manufacturers disclose information needed to diagnose and repair an automobile to the owner, a repair facility and the Federal Trade Commission. It would ban the FTC from disclosing any "trade secrets" in the codes.
Their can be no question the parallels this draws with the computer industry. This could also set a mindset precedent in Congress. If they can be forced to reason that closed source is harmful to citizens / consumers with automobiles, than they may be made to reason the same with the computer industry. The essential arguments that can be used against the auto industry here are exactly the same as those in the computer industry.

Consider if you will that all new cars come with computers, and that of course all such cars come with software. By the letter of the law of the DMCA, auto manufacturers could shrink wrap all new cars and prevent anyone from legally being able to resell them, change their own oil, or have any work done at any place other than an official dealership. The potential ramification for this fight are well worth watching in the computer industry.

The codes in question are part of the ODBII spec. The spec covers standards set by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and set into law by California in 1996. A great number of cars comply to this spec, but not all. It is not clear, but I believe the issue at hand may be that diagnostic codes for some cars are not being released by the manufacturers. There are tools that will even allow you to take the output from your cars' computer and download it to your Visor. Auto repair shops use these codes and download tools to diagnose car failures. Credit Imrdkl for finding some additional information about the spec.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Open auto codes
o Important consumer protection 50%
o Who cares? 6%
o Get a real car, one from the 60's without a computer 15%
o Only auto mechanics will be able to get them 3%
o Not my problem 3%
o I'll happily pay the dealership 0%
o Congress will sell out 15%
o People will have to pay for them 3%

Votes: 76
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
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o Also by onyxruby

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US Senator takes up open source fight against... Auto Industry | 38 comments (26 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
(gasp!) Soon, nerds and jocks will work together (3.14 / 7) (#7)
by Spork on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 05:42:32 AM EST

If this happens, you know every kiddie on Slashdot will be trying to upload "performance hacks" for their fuel injector. Auto customizing, the traditional hobby of athletic boneheads who lift weights and drink weak beer, will now be taken up by the caffine-wired overclockerz crowd. Somebody will run a modified Linux kernel on their Honda, just because they could. We're in for some strange times.

Already happens (2.50 / 2) (#9)
by Stereo on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 06:01:21 AM EST

It's usually called "tuning" :). Nice idea on Linux though... gosh, I'd love to run Linux on a BMW series 7 :D

kuro5hin - Artes technicae et humaniores, a fossis

[ Parent ]
Maybe not BMW, try Mercedes (3.33 / 3) (#14)
by salsaman on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 07:46:12 AM EST

Linux powers first car with integrated UMTS services

[ Parent ]
jokin right? (2.00 / 2) (#19)
by shrubbery on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:45:45 AM EST

Cause there are plenty of car enthusists modding cars who are part of the kompooter geek crowd too.

[ Parent ]
exists already! (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by strlen on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 11:55:36 PM EST

chip-tuning is quite an industry already. try GIAC, APR, PES, Oettinger, Neuspeed. and that's just in the european market. i'm sure the market is just as huge in japanese-import segments. one spectacular example of chip-tuning is the volkswagen/audi 5V Turbo engines (2.7 twin turbo on the A6 and S4 and 1.8 turbo on the A4, Golf GTi, Jetta, New Beetle, Audi TT). for instance, chip tuning your audi s4 will yield you 310 horsepower, a drastic increase from the 250 stock horsepower! chip tuning a 150 horsepower vw will also give you 210 horsepower. the way those chips works is by increasing boost pressures from the factory turbochargers. quite amazing. APR also has a nifty scheme, where you can interact with the software, using cruise control buttons. for instance, pressing the cruise control button twice, will alter fuel mapping and boost pressure as to take full advantages of 110 octane racing as -- the entrance into that mode will be shown by the check engline light flashing. i'm personally planning to chip tune my non-turbo 4-cylinder, to advance ignition timing and change fuel mapping for an addition 15 horsepower, and to increase the rev limiter to 7,000 rpm and remove the top-speed governoer.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
freedom (3.75 / 4) (#11)
by tps12 on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 06:45:00 AM EST

The biggest difference between this bill and open source software is obviously that software authors can decide on their own whether to release their source or not. In the case that they do, then licenses such as the GPL exist to help govern the uses of that source using the existing copyright framework.

There is a world of difference between that and compelling car makers to release diagnostic codes. If they are hiding behind the DMCA (which I would not doubt), then that is just another reason to repeal the DMCA, which is bad law at the very least, and quite possibly unconstitutional to boot.

Unless maybe the car manufacturers secretly want to be forced to release their codes...

Good point (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 11:12:00 AM EST

So perhaps we should do something about the software industry as well. Personally, I entirely fail to see how current copyright protections on software satisfy the constitutional mandate, and copyright's ONLY goal, of promoting the arts by causing there to be more information in the public domain, and which is restricted in term in accordance with the same public policy. (i.e. as minimally as possible, and never harmfully) Software has too long a copyright term; even five to ten years would probably be pushing it, given how rapidly it falls out of use. But furthermore, how are people supposed to derive a benefit from source code that is copyrighted, yet never sees the light of day as it is intended to? How can people meaningfully change software, or make certain in-term fair uses of it (e.g. 'shifting' it to different platforms) without source? Trade secrets aren't nearly so important, and have only minimal protections as it stands; certainly they are seen as at _best_ a necessary evil, nevertheless to be discouraged. We see the like with most copyrighted works, and with patents. There's nothing special about software that demands special treatment. If source or a binary is to be copyrighted, it should be open for public inspection, preferably deposited at the Library of Congress. This doesn't mean that anyone could freely use it in term (obviously they can, and we want to encourage them to, out of term) just because they can look at the whole thing. But trying to protect anything as a trade secret should be exclusive of copyrights; let the developer have to handle the entire thing himself in that case, with no particular protection by the government.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
here's why not (2.50 / 2) (#22)
by tps12 on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 11:33:13 AM EST

Trying to govern what private individuals do and don't do just leads to bureaucracy and inefficiency. Doing this in the consumer or the producer's favor upsets the natural balance of the market, which leads to more inefficiency. It hurts everyone.

Trying to solve the copyright problem by adding weight onto the current copyright infrastructure just adds credence to the perception that copyright law is good in principle. It also costs taxpayers, supposedly the people that copyright reform should benefit.

[ Parent ]

It's more complex than that (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by speek on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 12:02:05 PM EST

It's not a simple equation: regulation = inefficiency. Regulation can help prevent abuses and corruption, which also create inefficiencies. If efficiency is your goal, then the point is to weigh the options, taking all results into account.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Who's regulating? (3.50 / 2) (#24)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 01:25:55 PM EST

Oh, I greatly disagree. Firstly, it is impossible to take governmental regulation out of this equation unless you abolished copyright altogether, which I doubt is on anyone's agenda. Certainly copyright is capable of providing a public benefit. The present implementation may be terribly out of whack, but I strongly suspect that there's some way of doing it that still causes the public to be better off overall than they would be without it, and that's what we're looking for. But given that it is necessarily a governmental grant with a definate agenda, you're stuck with regulation. Of course, authors would have the option of avoiding all that and going it alone, but personally, I'd prefer to discourage it, if only by providing a really good alternative. Besides which, the costs associated can be borne by those who would seek the copyright itself. Filing fees et al are hardly new -- the USPTO does this already. Is it really a terrible burden on programmers seeking a copyright to have to submit a useful copy of the source code to the LoC? A CDR costs how much again? Would the LoC charge for archival really be that great, given that they accept stuff all the time? And in fact, given the high importance that our society places (or should place) on knowledge, don't we want to subsidize LIBRARIES anyway, just for the good of the thing?

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
eh.. (4.00 / 5) (#17)
by Work on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:02:38 AM EST

all cars comply with the ODB spec. Just some manufacturers also have added other codes as well which are only made sense by their own diagnostic tools (which as you can imagine, they charge a load for).

But for awhile now people have been hacking their engine computers...do a search on it and you'll find a cottage industry in software and equipment for reprogramming your engine.

He won't be a Senator for long. (2.75 / 4) (#18)
by wiredog on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:11:12 AM EST

The Green Party is after him. They want him out, and are running a candidate against him. This will split the left vote, and put a Republican in the Senate. Which might be enough to give the Republicans a majority. Which will give Dubya the green light to eliminate estate taxes and start drilling in the arctic wildlife refuge.

Can't sleep. The clowns will get me.
Which just goes to show (3.83 / 6) (#20)
by greenrd on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:50:37 AM EST

The idiocy of first past the post, eh? But who would ever change the voting system when the current system works "just fine" for the Republicrats and Demopublicans?

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Perpetuating a lie (2.66 / 3) (#25)
by KilljoyAZ on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 01:29:07 PM EST

Republicrats and Demopublicans?

I think Bush has shown in the past 1.5 years how intellectually bankrupt that little catchphrase is.

Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]

Heh (3.00 / 3) (#26)
by trhurler on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 05:46:37 PM EST

I don't know. He's certainly not much different than Clinton, who would have done exactly the same things in exactly the same ways, had 9/11 happened on HIS watch...

"It just seems to me that you are willfully entering an arse-kicking contest w
Parent ]
I disagree (1.00 / 2) (#28)
by KilljoyAZ on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 06:27:29 PM EST

but I've been here long enough to know not to get in an argument with you :)

Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
sarcasm detector failed; do not collect $200 [nt] (none / 0) (#30)
by infinitera on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 12:36:08 AM EST

[ Parent ]
You don't understand K5 (none / 0) (#33)
by Miniluv on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 12:24:05 PM EST

The entire point of K5 is to get into arguments with trhurler, streetlawyer, greenrd and a select few others.

Doing so is gauranteed to:

  • Put hair on your chest
  • Enhance your sense of self-worth
  • Make you more attractive to the K5 ladies
  • Get you quoted in someones sig
  • Earn you rusty's pity
  • Teach you a new swearword
And if the above weren't enough, it'll also give you fuel for at least one bitter diary about how misunderstood you are.

You stupid wankers. Stop zeroing comments that aren't spam, it's just stupid.
[ Parent ]
I've already got my favorite targets (none / 0) (#34)
by KilljoyAZ on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 03:33:05 PM EST

It's the angry Canadian trio of Ken Pompadour, The Littlest Hobo and The Eradicator (who are all the same person in my opinion). Got into it a little bit with streetlawyer once. I find greenrd too amusing to take on most of the time.

Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
Do explain (3.50 / 2) (#31)
by Perianwyr on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:24:05 AM EST

How exactly has Bush proven this? No, really, I want to hear.

[ Parent ]
Well, (none / 0) (#35)
by KilljoyAZ on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 03:41:35 PM EST

Really all that needs to be said is Bush's tax cut. Clinton would never have proposed anything of that size or scope. The ideological tilt of each president's respective judicial nominees is another. There's already been skirmishes in Congress, wait until a Supreme Court Justice retires/dies. I'd also throw in there the ban on all stem cell research, attempting to relax EPA new source review for air polluters, the energy bill (especially ANWR), the initial complete indifference to California's energy crisis, the Justice Department's Microsoft Settlement, missile defense, scrapping the ABM treaty, and his faith-based initiative plan.

Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
wow... (4.00 / 5) (#32)
by Shren on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 08:17:06 AM EST

The Greens and the Libertarians should get together and start some kind of exchange program. "Ok, we'll back a canidate against him, but only if you run somebody against that prick over there." It'd work something like this:

  1. The Libertarians find a Libertarian-friendly Republican, whom we'll call A.
  2. The Greens find a Green-friendly Democrat, whom we'll call B.
  3. The Libertarians run a campaign competing with B's opponent.
  4. The Greens run a campaign competing with A's opponent.
  5. A wins. Libertarians are happy.
  6. B wins. Greens are happy.
  7. Repeat the above steps untill this variety of sabotage becomes mainstream and the US finally adopts a better voting system, such as Approval Voting.

[ Parent ]
Open Standards are different from Open Source (4.57 / 7) (#27)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 05:46:39 PM EST

The issue here is that auto makers are putting out information in a proprietary, unpublished format. The bill only aims to make them publish this information. The correct analogy for software would be publishing the API to a library or the specification for a communications protocol. This is very different from opening the source. Only if the manufacturers were required to open the designs for the chips that produced the diagnostic codes would it be like the government mandating open source.

The essential arguments are not the same. (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by llchanx on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 11:07:55 AM EST

In response to the argument that, if cars were to be sold the way computers were, that
"... auto manufacturers could shrink wrap all new cars and prevent anyone from legally being able to resell them, change their own oil, or have any work done at any place other than an official dealership."

This is clearly a case of faulty parellelism.
It is always perfectly legal to sell software or licenses which you own.
If you choose to lease a car, obviously you can't sell it.  So watch what license you get your car under.

As for "changing their own oil," this involves replacement of a component which wears out over time.  There is no such parallel in the computer software industry - almost all software will work over time wihtout the need for additional purchases.  The only other purchases necessary may be storage space, memory, or increased processor power for an increased usage demand.  These are readily available on the commodity market.

Finally, you imply that the software industry prevents "[having] any work done at any place other than the offical dealership."
Clearly, this isn't the case.
If software breaks down, there are thousands of mom & pop computer shops that will attempt to fix your problem.  You seem, however, to be hinting that with the source code, you could fix your own problems.  Granted that may be nice, and it's certainly something that I personally like in the software I use, but the parallel in the auto-industry would be having the engineering blueprints for the car available so that you could redesign the entire thing.  This is not the case in the current market, and I doubt it ever will be.

Please don't misinterpret this comment - I am a huge supporter and contributor to the open-source movement, however I think the only way the movement will advance is through logical and clearly thought-out arguments and discussions.  I definately commend you for your efforts though - you certainly caused me to think, which other than being painful, is generally a good thing :-/

Security patches = oil (none / 0) (#37)
by p3d0 on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 01:48:31 PM EST

As for "changing their own oil," this involves replacement of a component which wears out over time. There is no such parallel in the computer software industry...
Much software can't continue to run without being updated to close security holes that are discovered.
If software breaks down, there are thousands of mom & pop computer shops that will attempt to fix your problem.
So if I find a bug in the way MS Word does a mail merge, I can take it to the local "mom & pop computer shop" and they'll fix it for me?
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
This is why I hate analogies. (none / 0) (#38)
by llchanx on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 03:44:14 PM EST

To continue on this analogy which I was unhappy with in the first place, bugfixes would be more like product recalls and certainly not oil.

You don't really 'plan' on patches (hehe, unless you're microsoft...but nevermind :P).  Oil is planned.

You can't safely drive your car if there's been a product recall out.  But its the dealer's responsibility to release these for free - much like software patches.

I know there are a million flaws in this analogy, which is why I hate analogies.  My entire point is that the basis of the analogy is false - the particulars of how it could be slightly corrected are trivial.

[ Parent ]

US Senator takes up open source fight against... Auto Industry | 38 comments (26 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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