Electric scooter company Bird apologized today for demanding that the publication Boing Boing remove an article about a $30 way to hack Bird scooters, as first spotted by the BBC. Bird said, “This was our mistake and we apologize to Cory Doctorow.” Bird had originally issued Boing Boing a notice of copyright infringement saying that the article writer, journalist Cory Doctorow, had promoted sales of an illegal product designed to bypass the scooters’ proprietary copyright protections.
Doctorow’s story, published in December, described a large number of Bird scooters getting abandoned on city streets and pointed out that “maybe now is a good time to invest in a $30 scooter ‘conversion kit.’” The kits would disable Bird recovery and payment features to turn a Bird scooter into your own personal one. Doctorow also mentioned auctions where you could acquire a scooter for about a dollar apiece.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which serves as legal counsel for Boing Boing, responded to Bird’s copyright infringement accusations by noting that while tampering with Bird’s own proprietary code would be illegal, the $30 plug-and-play kit merely swaps out the scooter’s motherboard for a new one and leaves the code alone. The EFF also suggested that under the First Amendment, Doctorow was only exercising his freedom of speech by writing about the kits, and he could have even gone further to call for Bird scooters “to be destroyed or stolen” and still have been within his rights.
Bird has now retracted its accusations and attributed its shaky legal argument to its staff being overwhelmed by scooters being stolen and misused. “In the quest for curbing illegal activities related to our vehicles, our legal team overstretched and sent a takedown request related to the issue to a member of the media,” a spokesperson told the BBC today, “Bird celebrates freedom in many ways, freedom from traffic, congestion, as well as freedom of speech.” We’ve reached out to Bird for more details.