Hastings Business Law Journal


Holden Benon


In the last five years, society has witnessed advancements in automobile technology that Henry Ford himself could not have dreamed. Vehicle software now allows cars to drive themselves; indeed, as of December 2017, close to four dozen vehicle manufacturers have received permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for autonomous testing. Many of the advancements in automobile technology involve copyright law, the primary body of law that protects computer source code. Essentially, each line of vehicle source code is protected the same way a film script is protected. Just as camera directions in the script are hidden from movie-goers, the source code underlying vehicle software is encrypted and given a second layer of protection through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

This article explores alternatives to the DMCA Triennial Review Process with a focus on the Class 22 Exemption for vehicle software research. By weighing corporate interests against those of the public, I suggest a refinement of Section 1201’s language that will inevitably benefit the public at large. Part one of this article explores two recent controversial case studies on vehicle source code. These case studies underscore the importance of creating an exemption for vehicle software research. Part two provides some background on the DMCA. Part three examines the Triennial Review Process, provides criticism of that process, and examines a case study on the Cell Phone Unlocking Exemption. Part four focuses on the Class 22 Vehicle Software-Security and Safety Research Exemption, and offers a proposal to strengthen this exemption.