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Technological Exceptions to the Legal Rule: Property Rights in the Fight Over Ownership of Vehicle Software

Sat, May 27, 14:00 to 15:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 2, Indigo Ballroom A

Abstract

In 2015, the Library of Congress considered exempting the software that runs on vehicles from the anti-circumvention provision of the 1996 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. At stake was not just the ability to repair or modify consumer vehicles, but beneath that, whether the material property rights of consumers would triumph over the intellectual property rights of corporations. Through an analysis of the public comments submitted during the proposal process, I reveal a discourse that is as much about cars as it is about the American idea of the foundation and benefits of property rights. I find that, for consumers, property rights are rooted in a liberal individualism that prioritizes private ownership, while corporations saw property rights as granted by the state for the benefit of the community. This ideological conflict is particularly worth attending to as more and more consumer products begin to incorporate software elements into their material design.

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