Electronics right to repair
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The right to repair electronics refers to government legislation that is intended to allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices, where otherwise the manufacturer of such devices require the consumer to use only their offered services. While a global concern, the primary debate over the issue has been centered on the United States and within the European Union.
The right to repair concept has generally come from the United States. Within the automotive industry, Massachusetts passed the United States' first Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act in 2012, which required automobile manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles. While not passed at the federal level, the major automobile trade organizations signed a memorandum to agree to abide by Massachusetts' law in all fifty states starting in the 2018 automotive year.
Inspired by this approach, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition (DRRC), which later changed its title to The Repair Association (TRA), was founded in 2013 to carry the same principles to electronics.
With consumer electronics becoming increasingly more complex, many electronics manufacturers have instituted systems whereby the only means to repair a device or obtain repair parts would be through one of their authorized vendors or original equipment manufacturers (OEM). For example, Apple, Inc. offers its Genius Bar to service and support products it sold. Companies like Apple claim this is primarily to restrict the release of confidential trade secrets and other intellectual property, such as the blueprints for devices. However, if disassembly of tangible goods is outlawed for any third party, so is the right for consumers to repair said goods (even if the company has already hit insolvency or discontinues servicing).
The practice of requiring consumers to go to the manufacturer for repairs has generally been criticized as anti-competitive as it prevents any type of third-party from servicing these devices, manufacturing compatible parts (that may offer more benefit to consumers, such as more environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes), and can stifle innovation. Further, recycling of old electronic goods can be inefficient or impossible without such information.
Manufacturers have also been able to succeed in using legislation like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent consumers from tinkering with their devices. Some have argued that this restrictive approach by manufacturers creates planned obsolescence for consumer products, thus forcing consumers to upgrade their devices and assure revenues for manufacturers. TRA, representing both repair shops and consumer tinkers, saw a need to protect consumers' rights. One of its first activities was to promote the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act in 2014, which repealed a ruling made by the United States Copyright Office that otherwise prevented consumers from unlocking their cell phones.
TRA worked with four states—South Dakota, New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts—to introduce "Right to Repair" laws in those states between 2014 and 2016, which would require OEMs to provide the required information and documentation for consumers and third-party repair shops to repair their products. While New York introduced its bill in February 2015, it did not see much progression by the last month it was up for consideration in the New York State Senate, and failed to pass. It was discovered that Apple had lobbied against the bill's passage. The company had similarly lobbied to stop the Massachusetts bill, against MacBook repair expert Louis Rossmann who supported it. In California, state representative Susan Eggman attempted to introduce similar legislation for the state in early 2019, but was forced to pull the bill after companies like Apple and trade groups like CompTIA and Entertainment Software Association lobbied other lawmakers to assure such a bill would not pass, arguing that such "right to repair" bills could lead to people injuring themselves while trying to repair their electronics, and for hackers to insert vulnerabilities into repaired devices to affect a user's privacy and security.
Right to repair movement
With knowledge that companies like Apple were fighting these bills in mid-2016, a larger "right to repair" movement began to grow, led by TRA. The movement gained a boost from the farming sector, where many farmers found they could not legally repair their own tractors or other farm equipment purchased from companies like John Deere without using the manufacturer's own repair services at a high cost to them. The American Farm Bureau Federation lobbied to provide the necessary exemptions from the DMCA to allow farmers to repair their own tangible equipment. TRA continues to lobby for state bills in numerous states particularly in the midwest to give consumers the right to repair their equipment. Companies like Apple, John Deere, and AT&T lobbied against these bills, and created a number of "strange bedfellows" from high tech and agricultural sectors on both sides of the issue, according to Time.
In late 2017, users of Apple, Inc. older iPhone models discovered evidence that recent updates to the phone's operating system, iOS was purposely throttling the speed of the phone. Apple responded initially that the goal of the software was to prevent overtaxing the older models of lithium-ion batteries to avoid unexpected shutdowns of the phone. Many blogs instilled on Apple users that Apple was purposely slowing down their phones to make users upgrade their phones. In response, Apple allowed users to control the battery throttling feature (disabling the feature and allowing the phone to shut down under load, or let the feature work as intended) in an iOS update, as well as to obtain service to replace batteries in out-of-warranty phones for a reduced cost of service (US$29 compared to US$79). However, the "right to repair" movement pointed out that such a scenario could have been handled if Apple allowed consumers to purchase third-party batteries and possess the instructions to replace it at lower cost to the consumer.
With new state Congressional terms at the start of 2018, seventeen states had introduced right-to-repair legislation by mid-January 2018; California joined in with their own state bill introduced in March. In response, by February 2018, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the Equipment Dealers Association, representing most of the major agricultural equipment manufacturers, agreed to a similar memorandum as the automotive industry to provide comprehensive information for their farming equipment to users by model year 2021. However, in September 2018, the Far West Equipment Dealers Association reached a compromise with the California Farm Bureau with a version of this memorandum that while equipment manufacturers will provide manuals, product guides, and diagnostic tools to interface with onboard software, thus allowing farmers to make physical repairs, this does not extend to any of the actual software or computerized systems on the equipment. The Association asserts that they need to prevent unauthorized access to software to prevent users from changing the settings to operate in unsafe manners and to protect any software IP on the equipment, stating that the right to repair is not to be taken as a right for software abstraction. As the California Farm Bureau has agreed to the Association's terms, it is unlikely that any right to repair legislation in California will include farm equipment.
In April 2018, the Federal Trade Commission sent notice to six automobile, consumer electronics, and video game console manufacturers, later revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request to be Hyundai, Asus, HTC, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, stating that their warranty practices may violate the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The FTC specifically identified that informing consumers that warranties are voided if they break a warranty sticker or seal on the unit's packaging, use third-party replacement parts, or use third-party repair services is a deceptive practice, as these terms are only valid if the manufacturer provides free warranty service or replacement parts. Both Sony and Nintendo released updated warranty statements following this notice.
The Library of Congress, as part of its three-year review of exemptions to the DMCA, approved an exemption in October 2018 that would allow for one to bypass copyright-protection mechanisms used in land vehicles, smartphones and home appliances for the ability to maintain ("to make it works in accordance with its original specifications and any changes to those specifications authorized for that device or system") or repair ("restoring of the device or system to the state of working in accordance with its original specifications and any changes to those specifications authorized for that device or system") the device. (83 FR 54010)
Senator Elizabeth Warren, in laying out plans for legislation related to agriculture in March 2019, stated her intent to introduce legislation to affirm the right to repair farm equipment, potentially expanding this to other electronic devices.
In August 2019, Apple announced a program where independent repair shops may have the ability to buy official replacement parts for Apple products. There are no known participants in the program.[needs update]
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where medical equipment became critical for many hospitals, iFixit and Calprig, the California branch of the Public Interest Research Group, worked to publish the largest known collection of manuals and service guides for medical equipment, using information from hospitals and medical institutions when manufacturers' direct information was not available, to make sure such equipment could be serviced quickly during the pandemic. iFixit had found, like with consumer electronics, some of the more expensive medical equipment had used means to make non-routine servicing difficult for end-users and requiring authorized repair processes, which during the emergency conditions of the pandemic was not acceptable.
On August 6, 2020, senator Ron Wyden and representative Yvette Clarke introduced the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020 (S. 4473, H.R. 7956,text) which focuses on preventing health professionals from being liable to copyright law when attempting to repair devices that would make it easier for “COVID-19 aid.”
The right to repair approach has also been a more recent concern in the European Union. Historically, Europe, particularly Western Europe, has preferred to have individuals buy a new item, rather than repair it on their own. However, more recently the trend of making one's repairs to devices gained hold in Eastern Europe and around the 2010s gained traction in the Western countries. In July 2017, the European Parliament approved recommendations that member states should pass laws that give consumers the right to repair their electronics, as part of a larger update to its previous Ecodesign Directive from 2009 which called for manufacturers to produce more energy-efficient and cleaner consumer devices. The ability to repair devices is seen by these recommendations as a means to reduce waste to the environment.
With these recommendations, work began on establishing the legal Directive for the EU to support the recommendations, and from which member states would then pass laws to meet the Directive. One of the first areas of focus was on consumer appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines; these units are sealed by means to prevent consumers from repairing them. The right-to-repair facets of appliances were a point of contention between consumer groups and appliance manufacturers in Europe, the latter who lobbied the various national governments to gain favorable language in the Directive. Ultimately, the EU passed legislation in October 2019 that, after 2021, required manufacturers of these appliances to be able to supply replacement parts to professional repairmen for ten years from manufacture. However, the legislation did not address other facets related to right-to-repair, and activists noted that this still limited the consumer's ability to perform their own repairs.
The EU also has directives towards a circular economy which are aimed towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other excessive wastes through recycling and other programs. A new "Circular Economy Action Plan" draft introduced in 2020 includes the electronics right to repair for EU citizens as this would allow device owners to replace only malfunctioning parts rather than replace the entire device, reducing electronics waste. The Action Plan includes additional standardization that would aid towards rights to repair, such as common power ports on mobile devices.
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