Jun 04, 2015 asksam

When did I click “accept” for the EULA for my new car?

Dear Sam, I just bought a new car and it’s great – it has GPS, links to Pandora, Slacker Radio, I Heart Radio, OpenTable, Facebook, Yelp, Bing, MovieTickets. It also has Blue Tooth, a DVD player for the back seat, a camera that comes on when I put the car in reverse and even has a heads up display. When I’m driving, I’m the commander of my universe – it’s great. Except for one thing – as I was reading through my owner’s manual, I quickly reviewed the 30 pages of licensing documentation and I realized that I don’t own the entertainment system – I license it. Further, the license requires me to transfer the software with the system for which it was created and, “provided that the transferee agrees to all terms and conditions of this AGREEMENT”. Does this mean I need to include a software transfer contract along with the bill of sale for my vehicle when I sell it?


When did I click “accept” for the EULA for my new car?

Ask SamDear When did I click “accept” for the EULA for my new car?:

Software licensing has not kept up with the pervasiveness of software in embedded systems. In many cases, especially in the case of smaller software companies, the licenses are pro-forma and based on what was done in the past – this is clearly not sustainable as the software industry is on the advent of the Internet of Things – where all your things (including cars, refrigerators, toys and even light switches) will likely include software!

Software companies, especially smaller companies, will often use pro-forma licensing agreements for their products, and larger manufacturing companies may use licensing agreements to lean the market in their favor. This means you may see clauses like the clause you read, or – you may even see a non-transferable clause – yikes!

But that’s not the least of your worries – do you want to have your car maintained by someone other than your dealer? In a not too distant future, you, or your mechanic may be breaking copyright laws if you do not use the dealer to handle maintenance! GM, as one example, indicates that there are an average of 30 electronic control units (ECUs) in today’s vehicles – each of which has software and each of which is licensed to you, not owned by you. These units control a myriad of systems in the vehicle including braking, steering, and they manage fuel efficiency. In some instances, it could be illegal for a mechanic to work with these ECUs without authorization from the manufacture.

It’s also illegal for the owner of the car to reverse engineer and change the software. A process called chipping was (and is) common in the automobile culture, but anyone who engages in this practice is breaking the law – see the Wired article on this topic.

Now, obviously, if you rechip your car, you break your warranty – that’s clear, but it’s another to tell someone who wants to be up to their elbows in the nuts and bolts – and software of their older vehicle – that their actions are illegal. It is a complicated issue though – what happens if someone modifies an ECU to make the brakes less sensitive, the brake lights not to shine when the brakes are pressed, or the airbags to not inflate in an accident, then the vehicle is sold – how could the new buyer identify the change was made?

There are activities in process to work out the best approach to these issues in the long run. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), for example, is petitioning for changes in the copyright laws that will allow 3rd party maintenance of ECUs. There is also a bill in process in the United States that allows people to transfer the computer program that comes with a device when the device is transferred.

So, in answer to your question, today, to be legal, you should have a software transfer agreement that you have the buyer sign when you sell your vehicle. However, depending on all the other software licensing for all the other ECUs in the car, that may or may not be sufficient until and unless there are amendments to things like Title 17 of the United States Code to enable your transfer rights (of course, these changes are likely required in every country, so, as they say, your mileage may vary).

As for who clicked the EULA, there may, or may not be a EULA provided – as indicated in the autoblog article on GM, you may have signed a licensing agreement for certain vehicle functions but, “the company {GM} is claiming that the licensing principle applies across the entire car”.

It will be sometime before we get clear resolution on these issue. It will be particularly interesting to watch what happens as Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay start to become options in new cars. Licensing rights matter in your day-to-day life – stay tuned!