Electric scooter company Bird has demanded that the publication Boing Boing take down a story that discusses a $30 way to hack Bird scooters, citing copyright infringement. The argument doesn’t seem to hold up at first glance, but Bird has been known to act quickly and face legal consequences later.
The article, published last month, describes a large number of Bird scooters dumped on city streets and follows that by saying “maybe now is a good time to invest in a $30 scooter ‘conversion kit.’” The kits, which ship from China, are essentially a plug-and-play way to disable the Bird recovery and payment features to turn the scooter into your own personal one. The story mentions how you could also potentially acquire one of the Bird scooters from an auction for around a dollar apiece.
Bird sent Boing Boing a notice of claimed infringement to alert the publication that writing about the issue could potentially be illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Bird’s letter states that the article writer, journalist Cory Doctorow, promoted the sales of an illegal product that’s designed to bypass Bird’s own proprietary tech’s copyright protections.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which serves as legal counsel for Boing Boing, responded that the First Amendment protected Doctorow and that he could have even gone so far as to write a call to action for “Bird scooters to be destroyed or stolen; instead he simply reported that they could lawfully be acquired at auction and lawfully modified to function as personal scooters.”
As the EFF explains, Bird’s claims that the Boing Boing story was illegal under the DMCA doesn’t exactly hold water, because the DMCA prohibits actual hacking devices while the process for converting Bird scooters is much simpler. You just need to swap out Bird’s motherboard for a new one, which technically avoids modifying or accessing any Bird code. Bird declined to comment for this story.