Establising a Responsibility to Repair

2017-05-09

in Economics, Geek stuff, Law, Politics, The environment

The concept of Right to Repair is meant to help consumers and tinkerers keep their vehicles, electronics, and other equipment going, despite the preferences of manufacturers that they buy something new or at least pay the original builder for any repairs.

In a more sustainable world, we can imagine a Responsibility to Repair, where any manufacturer of a product intended to be durable – from a phone or laptop to a car or house – would be expected to support repairs by providing blueprints and source code, by making spare parts available, and by designing products in the first place so that failures can be repaired (a) by individual users (b) by third-party repair centres and (c) by the company itself.

This is the opposite of the Apple philosophy of keeping everything secret, building machines that cannot be taken apart, and throwing away anything broken to replace it with something new.

In a Responsibility to Repair world, governments could keep track of all devices which consumers report as broken and impossible to fix, and then press companies to comply with regard to those items. Companies that refuse could face sactions from fines to losing the right to advertise to losing the right to make products in certain categories.

It would be the end of planned obsolescence, and the start of a much more sustainable form of consumerism. Even for companies that close down, this approach would create multiple benefits, since their design specifications and software would be openly available and their products would be designed with public repair in mind from the beginning. If one big jurisdiction like the EU were to establish laws of this kind, the benefits would be felt around the world.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 9, 2017 at 4:43 pm
alena May 9, 2017 at 5:51 pm

I could not agree with you more. In Czechoslovakia and in Pakistan we used to repair everything, even ancient stuff. Uncle Robert learned how to fix most anything in Kenya. We have to try doing much more of that with the help of the manufacturer.

anon May 10, 2017 at 6:36 pm

It’s naive to think that a law like this could ever be passed. Disposable consumerism is what makes giant firms like Apple and Amazon so profitable and maintains the economic growth that gets governments reelected. If anything we can expect that the law will keep clamping down on people trying to repair products, while doing more to make intellectual property restrictions into a profit driver.

. May 19, 2017 at 12:28 am

Apple Is Lobbying Against Your Right To Repair iPhones, New York State Records Confirm

Lobbying records in New York state show that Apple, Verizon, and the tech industry’s largest trade organizations are opposing a bill that would make it easier for consumers and independent companies to repair your electronics. The bill, called the “Fair Repair Act,” would require electronics companies to sell replacement parts and tools to the general public, would prohibit “software locks” that restrict repairs, and in many cases would require companies to make repair guides available to the public. Apple and other tech giants have been suspected of opposing the legislation in many of the 11 states where similar bills have been introduced, but New York’s robust lobbying disclosure laws have made information about which companies are hiring lobbyists and what bills they’re spending money on public record. According to New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Apple, Verizon, Toyota, the printer company Lexmark, heavy machinery company Caterpillar, phone insurance company Asurion, and medical device company Medtronic have spent money lobbying against the Fair Repair Act this year. The Consumer Technology Association, which represents thousands of electronics manufacturers, is also lobbying against the bill. The records show that companies and organizations lobbying against right to repair legislation spent $366,634 to retain lobbyists in the state between January and April of this year. Thus far, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition — which is generally made up of independent repair shops with several employees — is the only organization publicly lobbying for the legislation. It has spent $5,042 on the effort, according to the records.

. June 21, 2017 at 4:39 pm

New technology is eroding your right to tinker with things you own

The end of ownership in the digital era

CONSUMERS across America can thank a recent ruling by the Supreme Court for granting them the right to do whatever they want with gizmos and gadgets they own. Eh? Surely, one might think, ownership automatically confers such a right. In an increasing number of cases, sadly, it does nothing of the sort. If people cannot repair a product when it breaks, alter it to suit their needs, sell it or give it away when done with it, then they do not “own” it in the traditional sense. Even when they pay good money for something, restrictions buried in the small print can limit what they may, or may not, do with it. The Supreme Court ruling is a small, but significant, victory for consumers at a time when the whole notion of ownership is being rapidly eroded by digital technology.

Until recently, jail-breaking (unlocking) a mobile phone, even one that had been bought outright rather than merely leased from the carrier, was punishable in America by a fine of up to $500,000 and/or five years in jail. Likewise, anyone who tried to fix a duff device of his own—whether a video recorder, washing machine, motor car or agricultural tractor—could land themselves in serious trouble if the product contained a digital controller board, as practically all do these days. Under such circumstances, the only way to avoid running foul of the catch-all Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 has been to let an authorised service technician do the repair.

The problem is that fixing a digital device that has ceased to work means first decrypting its Digital Rights Management (DRM) firmware—a simple software lock designed decades ago to thwart pirates from copying DVDs. Section 1201 of the DCMA makes cracking such locks illegal. Though it is trivially easy to do so and presents no obstacle for software pirates and others, manufacturers have worked out that they can use DMCA to force customers to buy all their supplies and maintenance from them alone. Before Section 1201 came into force, people had the right to tinker with gadgets they had bought in any way they wanted. They could record television shows on hard-drives and remix songs on tape recorders to their heart’s delight. DMCA’s prohibition on busting DRM locks rendered such tinkering illegal.

Thanks to lobbying efforts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other consumer advocates, a few of Section 1201’s anti-competitive practices have since been rolled back. Motorists now have the legal right to fix their own cars, farmers their tractors, and people can unlock their mobile phones and tablets without fear of prosecution. But exemptions from DMCA’s overly broad and widely abused copyright restrictions have been only on a case-by-case basis, and resisted tooth and nail by manufacturers.

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