Right To Repair

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Beginner’s Guide To The Right To Repair

“Right To Repair” Defined

Right to repair is a consumer rights movement that seeks to give consumers cost-effective and accessible means of device, vehicle, and appliance repair. It is also an important legislative movement that would benefit almost every consumer, and you should know about it. Right to repair laws expand the tools and information you have to make alterations or repairs to your products. The Right to Repair movement wants to compel OEMs, like Apple, to provide consumers and independent repair shops equal access to their proprietary documentation, tools, diagnostics, service parts, and firmware.

What Needs To Change?

Right to repair seeks to change the way companies hinder the independent repair of their products. Currently, companies like Apple can withhold information like schematics and tools to hamper independent repair. The right to repair movement seeks to improve consumer rights by compelling companies to offer replacement parts and documents to its user base.

  • Planned Obsolescence Explained: Planned obsolescence is a business strategy that artificially limits the valuable lifetime of consumer goods. Opponents of planned obsolescence argue that by encouraging customers to replace functional devices regularly, companies contribute to the environmental harm of e-waste.
  • What Are Consumer Packaged Goods? A non-durable good, or consumer packaged good (CPG), is a product that is inexpensive, often disposable, and always in demand. This includes things like produce, meat, and household cleaners.
  • Definition Of Durable Goods: A durable good, also known as a slow-moving consumer good (SMCG), is a product that is usually expensive but remains in use for three or more years. The consumer durables industry encompasses everything from cars to refrigerators.
  • Comparing Durable And Non-Durable Goods: Nondurable goods are affordable products that expire quickly and are usually disposable. Durable goods, however, are products that last longer than three years and are expensive. Both are subject to planned obsolescence, but nondurable goods are made to be thrown away.
  • When To Repair Or Replace A Device: The repair vs. replace debate is different from person to person and device to device. The “50 Percent Rule” dictates that if repairs cost 50% the price of a replacement, go with a new device. However, some classic devices might be worth repairing even if they are older.

Understanding How Warranties Work

A warranty is essentially a promise that a faulty product will be repaired or replaced. While warranties are not required by law, most businesses (retailers and manufacturers) provide them to their consumers. The warranty duration for your item is determined by the warranty documentation that comes with it. However, there are a few things you should be aware of about your warranty. Before anything else, you’ll want to know what kind of warranty you have. Also, keep in mind that insurance is different from a warranty, and covers accidental damage and post-warranty repair and replacement.

A manufacturer’s warranty is an agreement from the OEM that they will repair or replace a device within a given timeframe. These warranties are considered standard and come with most new products. If you have an extended warranty, it usually means you’ve paid an extra charge that covers a device past the manufacturer’s warranty. These warranties typically cannot be used while the original warranty is valid. If you have a full warranty, that usually offers you complete repair and replacement, plus labor costs. Limited warranties, meanwhile, only cover specific parts of a device, and they don’t cover labor costs.

The Problem With The Digital Millennium Copyright Act Of 1998

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is internet-based legislation that protects copyright holders, platform owners, and service providers. While the majority of experts feel the law has decreased illegal behavior, others argue that the DMCA should be updated to be less restrictive of emerging online media. For example, some OEMs use the DMCA to deny consumers and independent repair shops access to necessary information, tools, and replacement parts. The law does, however, offer exemptions; DMCA exemptions allow people to make non-infringing uses of copyrighted works in some specific cases. While some exemptions are permanent, there are others that need to be regularly renewed every three years.

What Types Of Devices Qualify For Right To Repair?

When it comes to the right to repair, many devices are included in the movement. From appliances to medical equipment, if it can be repaired, it’s covered. Coverage will vary from device to device, as some devices may feature components that are too complex for the consumer to repair, while other devices are simple enough that the entire thing is repairable by a dedicated owner. Devices that frequently are referenced in the fight for the right to repair include:

  • Consumer Electronics
  • Appliances
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Farming Equipment
  • Medical Equipment

Why Is The Right To Repair Important?

Right to repair legislation would ensure that consumers have access to convenient and cost-effective repair options for their goods. This type of law encourages competition and keeps our devices working for longer. It is also important for ensuring that consumers have the ability to repair their own products, by preventing manufacturers from engaging in hostile practices that actively keep someone from opening devices they own and performing repairs on them. The right to repair pulls double duty for giving repair shops a fair shot at offering repair services, as well as keeping consumer’s right to perform maintenance and repair on their own devices intact. It also helps to ensure the following:

  • More Affordable Repair Options For Consumers
  • Less E-Waste Produced
  • More Independent Repair Jobs
  • Product Value Retention
  • Consumer Rights
  • Brand Equity For Manufacturers

STAT: 81% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, and 73% of Independents support Right to Repair legislation, making the issue a rare non-partisan subject. (source)

See The Right To Repair Movement’s Progress

Timeline Of Events That Fueled The Right To Repair Movement

  • 1956: In 1956, the United States DOJ found IBM to be a monopoly. To combat this, a consent decree was enacted to reign IBM in. This was a major step forward for the right to repair.
  • 1975: The year 1975 saw the US government enact standards that manufacturers needed to meet in order to advertise a warranty, known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Up to this point, consumers were at the mercy of dishonest warranty practices.
  • 1992: This year saw Kodak’s monopoly on repairs and maintenance of its imaging technology challenged by independent repair organizers (ISOs). The US Supreme court was eventually involved after multiple appeals.
  • 2001: The Motor Vehicles Right to Repair Act of 2001 was introduced to Congress by Senator Paul Wellstone. The bill would protect consumers by requiring vehicle manufacturers to supply the public with all information required to diagnose, service, or repair a vehicle.
  • 2008: The Supreme Court upheld a previous decision by the California Supreme Court that upheld a challenge to the phone unlocking policies of AT&T and T-Mobile.
  • 2010: The year 2010 saw a worst-case scenario in the form of Oracle, a tech manufacturer, that instituted policies against independent repair on SUN equipment. Upon acquiring SUN hardware, Oracle changed its repair policy by banning independent repair. The change threatened to kill 50 percent of the SUN hardware repair industry. Additionally, the Service Industry Association created the ICCC (International Customer Competitiveness Committee.
  • 2012: The US DOJ Anti-Trust advises that the ICCC seek legislative action against Oracle and other OEMs engaging in the same behavior. Unfortunately, 2012 is also the year cell phone unlocking became illegal after the Librarian of Congress decided that unlocking mobile phones was a violation of the DMCA. In brighter news, Massachusetts passed the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right To Repair Act.
  • 2013: Despite the setbacks of the prior year, 2013 was a big year for positive steps for the right to repair movement. This year, consumers petitioned for unlocking cell phones, and AVAYA was found in violation of antitrust laws. The Repair Association (originally the Digital Right To Repair Coalition) was formed this year, and the Kirtsaeng v John Wiley & Sons Case ruled in favor of Kirtsaeng, protecting the right to sell legally purchased, used copies of copyrighted material, even if they were manufactured outside of the United States.
  • 2014: Following the wins of 2013, 2014 was another great year for right to repair momentum. President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which made unlocking cell phones legal again.
  • 2017: Lexmark lost its copyright case against Impression Products. Apple reversed a controversial policy that voided an iPhone’s warranty if it was serviced by a third party and also had to deal with fallout of the batterygate scandal. The scandal, and resulting class action lawsuit, came about after evidence that Apple was throttling performance on older iPhones to reduce battery load surfaced. In addition, multiple US states introduced Right to Repair bills.

STAT: Americans of all income levels support Right to Repair legislation. 72.9% of households with an income below $50k/year, 75.1% with income between $50k-$100k/year, and 73.2% with income over $100k/year reported that they’d support Right to Repair legislation. (source)

States That Have Active Introduced Right To Repair Bills As Of May 2021

STAT: 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was produced in 2019. Only 17.4% was documented to be collected and properly recycled. (source)

Right To Repair’s Growth In The EU

  • Right To Repair Europe’s Campaign: The European Right to Repair movement aims to seek legislation to require that products are better made, and easily repaired. In October 2019, the EC passed legislation requiring manufacturers to supply replacement parts for appliances for a minimum of 7 years to independent repair shops.
  • European Commission’s Right To Repair Rules In Favor Of Repair Professionals: The EU passed a right to repair regulation that requires manufacturers to produce longer-lasting goods and makes spare parts readily available for up to ten years.
  • Circular Economy Action Plan 2020 Draft: The Circular Economy Action Plan draft introduced in 2020 which would permit EU device owners to replace malfunctioning parts in order to reduce e-waste.

Opposition Against Right To Repair

The opponents to right to repair usually argue on the grounds of copyright to protect tools and information. In addition, OEMs are concerned with brand equity. Opposition to right to repair most commonly in company practices, hostile anti-repair design, and corporate lobbying.

Companies Lobbying Against The Right To Repair

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Tesla
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • AT&T
  • Lilly, Inc.
  • Medtronic
  • T-Mobile
  • Caterpillar
  • John Deere
  • Sony
  • General Electric
  • Philips
  • eBay

STAT: In 2013, 8.3% of large household appliances were replaced in less than five years due to defects, which is a 4.8% increase from the amount of large appliances replaced in 2004. (source)

Reasoning Behind Opposition

Intellectual Property Protection:

Companies argue that giving consumers and repair shops access to patented tools, parts, and schematics for repair would encourage the infringement of their intellectual property.

  • Rebuttal: The USCO concluded that repair does not infringe patents.

Consumer And Other Individual Safety

OEMs claim that consumers are less safe under right to repair laws. They claim that parts like lithium-ion batteries could harm inexperienced repair people. OEMs also believe hackers would use software-based maintenance tools to crack device cybersecurity.

  • Rebuttal: Repairing devices is much riskier to perform when consumers do not have access to repair manuals or parts.

Protected Public Perception Of The Brand

OEMs claim that allowing third-party repairs would harm their brand perception. Companies like Apple want to control the entire customer experience, even repairs.

  • Rebuttal: The average consumer does not react negatively to hearing that a business is becoming repair friendly and eco-friendly.

Did You Know?

500lbs of fossil fuels, 50lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water are needed to manufacture one computer and monitor, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (source)

How To Get Involved And Support Right To Repair

Step 1. Consider Contributing To Louis Rossmann’s Right To Repair GoFundMe

Louis Rossmann is an independent laptop repairman and YouTube educator. He started the Repair Preservation Group Action Fund to raise money to fight for the right to repair. All donations to the nonprofit go towards advocating for right to repair laws.

Step 2. Sign Right To Repair Petitions Online

In the US and in Europe, there are avenues for right to repair petitions. Google for active petitions and share them with friends and family to help get signatures. For example, consider the petition to the FTC by TRA, or the Petition to Manufacturers by Steven Willaims. You can also consider joining the U.S. PIRG in standing up to Apple.

Step 3. Spread The Word About Right To Repair On Social Media

Share right to repair information with your followers. Articles like iFixIt’s Repair Manifesto help people understand the movement. Talk with people in your comments about the importance of right to repair laws.

Step 4. Educate Your Friends, Family And Community About Right To Repair

Encourage discussions about right to repair with your social circle and discuss the benefits of having the right to repair in your back pocket. Share information in person and on social media, and talk with local repair shops to see how they’re impacted by current laws. Build your knowledge base to better understand the right to repair and what it can do for everyone.

Step 5. If Your State Doesn’t Already Have An Active Bill, Write To Your Local Representatives And Senators

Speak to local repair shops about what issues they face, as this can help you better understand what needs to change. Reach out to your local State Representative via the TRA website and use this information to inform your representative about what repair shops and the consumer is facing. Be polite and professional to get more out of interactions with government officials.

Step 6. Volunteer At Right To Repair Events

Volunteer with The Repair Association. You’ll find that right to repair events often need volunteers to guide workshops, as well as lead successful right to repair outreach events.

Step 7. Support Repair-Friendly Manufacturers

Don’t buy products you cannot fix or sign a EULA before reading it! EULAs are very long but it’s worth knowing how to navigate them so you understand what exactly you’re signing away when you fill out the dotted line or check the “Accept” box. You can also support nonprofits like Free Geek to purchase used electronics. Seek out e-recycling centers that offer repaired products like Tech Dump. Consider places like:

  • Free Geek: Free Geek provides people in need with access to computers and other devices, and also sell repaired electronics to fund their operation.
  • Homeboy Electronics: Homeboy Electronics Recycling is among the most qualified electronics recyclers in the country. They help rehabilitate former gang members and inmates by offering job placement and also assist companies with the liquidation of electronic equipment.
  • Pro Camera Repair: Pro Camera Repair was denied access to Canon parts for selling Canon repair equipment. Canon claimed Pro Camera Repair violated their trust by distributing this repair tool to other camera repair shops. Pro Camera Repair is also fighting Nikon on similar grounds.
  • Tech Dump: Tech Dump is one of the leading R2 certified e-recyclers in the world. Tech Dump fuels its mission by offering low-cost refurbished electronics on its site. Their goal is to recycle and rehome electronics to cut down on e-waste.
  • NERDiT Now: Markevis Gideo is the owner of NERDiT Now, a mobile electronics repair shop, and founder of the NERDiT Foundation, which gives free refurbished computers to underprivileged kids.
  • Sam’s Screen Repair: Sam Mencimer is one of the youngest Right to Repair activists. He started repairing iPhone screens at 12 years old and owns Sam’s Screen Repair which repairs a variety of issues and devices, in addition to screens.
  • Irvine Repair Consortium: The Irvine Repair Consortium is a high school club that repairs broken phones and sells them. The proceeds are donated to charity. The founder of the Irvine Repair Consortium is 15-year-old Rishi Padmanabhan.

Step 8: Invest In Your Own Repair Kits

You should have a repair kit for different kinds of products. For example, tools for smartphones and tablets are small and specialized, so owning a set is worthwhile for doing any kind of repair work.

Frequently Asked Questions About Right To Repair

Why is legislation needed at the state level?

Right to repair legislation is important at state and federal levels, but they cannot tackle the same things. States can require OEMs to share information for repairs, which isn’t covered by copyright. Additionally, state legislatures are often much more accessible at the local level and a grass-roots movement needs support from multiple states.

How would right to repair affect product warranties?

Right to repair would not affect product warranties. Right to repair is mostly concerned with products that are no longer covered under warranty. Under right to repair laws, OEMs would still offer warranty service and most consumers would still use the OEM’s warranty options.

How does right to repair affect retailers?

Retailers would not be directly affected by right to repair legislation. Right to repair laws are targeted towards manufacturers, but not retailers, distributors, or storefronts. Right to repair laws might affect retail through a drop in new device sales, but that would be caused by the wide availability of device repair options.

How does right to repair improve cybersecurity?

While some companies claim open repair would harm device security, cybersecurity experts disagree. Right to repair supporters argue that a more open repair market would improve cybersecurity by providing more experts a look at how the security could be improved. For example, securepairs.org is an independent cyber security blog that advocates for right to repair as a way to enhance device security.

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