Corey Doctorow sums this whole mess up brilliantly:
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it a felony (punishable by up to five years in prison and a $500K fine for a first offense) to break the DRM on car firmware, meaning that you can hide all sorts of dirty secrets in there. Laws like the DMCA are present all over the world, thanks to the efforts of the US Trade Representative, who has made adopting protection for DRM into a condition for trading with the USA. As the world’s governments have volunteered to spend tax-money to protect the secrecy of proprietary software, companies have taken them up on the implicit offer: add DRM to your products, get away with murder (literally).
The damage to VW, the world’s biggest carmaker, is cataclysmic. The company’s shares have collapsed by a third since its chicanery surfaced (see chart 1). It faces billions of dollars in fines and other financial penalties. Lawsuits will be flying their way to its headquarters in Wolfsburg. Its strategy for the crucial American market is ruined; its reputation is in tatters. Its boss, Martin Winterkorn—who in 2009, when the misleading “defeat” software made its first appearance, was also directly responsible for the company’s R&D—resigned on September 23rd.
Source: A mucky business