Jan 7, 2015 · 1 minute

Ford is using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to quash an independent company that decrypted a list of parts used in Ford's vehicles and included it in its own product.

Autel, the company against which Ford has filed a legal complaint, makes aftermarket diagnostics tools meant to help consumers identify problems with their vehicles without requiring them to visit a manufacturer-sanctioned automotive shop in order to do so.

The list of gripes included in Ford's complaint includes: "copyright infringement, trademark infringement, false designation of origin, misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential business information, common law unjust enrichment," and more.

Ford is essentially using the DMCA's broad language to claim that gathering and using a list of parts used in its vehicles is illegal, especially because that list was encrypted and included several fictional parts meant to bypass regulations of copyrighted information.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group which often weighs in on matters involving copyright law, had this to say about Ford's complaint against Autel:

At EFF, we think people ought to be able to understand how their devices work and repair them without asking permission of the manufacturer. We also think independent repair companies should to be able to compete with manufacturers in the aftermarket. Simply put, you should be able to fix your stuff or choose someone you trust to do it for you.
It's hard to argue that consumers shouldn't be able to use tools which allow them to make repairs to their own property, or that third-party companies like Autel can't compile a list of parts used in a vehicle, to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex.

Unfortunately, it seems many involved with the DMCA are unable to see that a law written before computers became overwhelmingly popular has led to disproportionate imprisonments, prosecutorial bullying, and other problems.

Which means Ford's complaint about another company using its list of vehicle parts might have some legal merit. Not that the public will know -- as the EFF notes, Ford's argument hinges on the idea that even viewing the encrypted list violates the DMCA.

[Image via Thinkstock]