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.

{ 12 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.

. July 7, 2017 at 6:48 pm

The EU’s Right to Repair proposal makes America’s look weaksauce

Eight US states are trying to pass minimal Right to Repair legislation that would require companies not to actively confound people who wanted to fix their stuff or choose an independent repair center. But in the EU, Europeans’ strong preference for “durable, high-quality products that can be repaired and upgraded” has led to a proposal to require goods sold in Europe to be designed for improvement and maintenance, on the lines of the inspiring and enduring Maker’s Bill of Rights.

. September 23, 2017 at 7:34 pm
. October 26, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Why We Must Fight for the Right to Repair Our Electronics

Pending U.S. legislation could force manufacturers to make repair parts and information available at fair prices

Unlike the 30-year-old mixer on your kitchen counter that refuses to die, new technology—especially the smart devices with fancy, embedded electronics—breaks more quickly. That trend, confirmed by a recent study by the German government, applies not just to delicate products like smartphones and tablets but also to equipment we would expect to last for a long time—like televisions, washing machines, and even tractors.

Manufacturers would prefer to sell you their latest models rather than repair your old electronics, so they work to make fixing their products too expensive or too impractical. It’s a global problem because the marketplace for technology is global, and people everywhere are affected. With so many people throwing out so much broken stuff, it should come as no surprise that e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream, with tens of millions of tons discarded annually around the world.

. October 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm

“In past decades, companies that made electronic equipment typically provided the information needed for repair—and usually free of charge. Computers came with schematic diagrams showing how the various components on the circuit boards were connected. Even Apple, now one of the most repair-unfriendly gadget makers in the business, sent a free, exhaustive manual—complete with schematics—to owners of the Apple II. It was expected that many owners would repair and maybe even tinker with their equipment.

But as the years went on, this kind of information became scarcer. It’s ironic. We live in the age of information. And yet, at the very moment when information about how to repair electronics should be easiest for owners to get their hands on, it has dried up.

That scarcity is by design. Manufacturers don’t want you to fix that broken microwave or air conditioner; they want you to buy a new one. Some even send cease-and-desist letters to people who post repair information online. Back in 2012, Toshiba told laptop repair tech Tim Hicks that he needed to remove 300 PDFs of Toshiba’s official repair manuals from his website, where he was offering the information for free. To avoid being sued, Hicks complied, and now fewer people have the guidance they need to repair Toshiba laptops.”

. November 7, 2017 at 9:02 pm

Repairing competition

In 2012, the Auto Care Association, representing the independent vehicle-repair industry, won a right-to-repair ballot initiative in Massachusetts with 86% of the vote. This showed that the public wants to control where the cars they have purchased are repaired, and by whom. But carmakers have looked to other means to gain the upper hand. This includes using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent the independent car-repair industry from accessing embedded software found in a growing number of component systems for vehicles.

The ability to access this software is critical to independent repairers in order to compete with their larger rivals. We have applied for exemptions from the DMCA for car repairs, but these exemptions are very limited and only last three years. Congress must step in to ensure that the law does not continue to be abused and prevent competition.

BILL HANVEY
President and CEO
Auto Care Association
Bethesda, Maryland

. October 24, 2018 at 6:28 pm
. November 21, 2018 at 4:05 pm

How Apple and other manufacturers attack your right to repair their products

Apple has been accused of taking an especially aggressive stance against third-party repairs or refurbishment, using both hardware and software. Its laptops are held together with proprietary screws needing special tools to remove. For years, the devices’ memory and storage drives have been glued into their insides, so buyers have had to specify those components at the moment of sale (usually for higher prices than equivalent units in the open market).

In 2016, an upgrade to the iPhone operating system turned the devices into mute paperweights if they detected that non-Apple hardware had been installed. (Apple later released a fix for that notorious “Error 53” bug, claiming that it had gone public by mistake.) Just this month, Apple acknowledged that its newest laptops carry a chip that will shut down the units if replacement hardware has been installed, unless the hardware has been configured with a software tool distributed only to Apple Stores and company-certified technicians. The company says this limitation is designed to safeguard the security protections built into the chip.

Apple also has been part of tech industry coalitions that have lobbied against right-to-repair legislation in more than a dozen states. The company’s direct involvement in these campaigns by organizations such as the Consumer Technology Assn. and the Computing Technology Industry Assn., of which Apple is a member or associate, is murky. But a Nebraska state legislator disclosed last year that she had been visited personally by an Apple lobbyist with a warning that the right-to-repair measure she was sponsoring would turn the state into “a mecca for bad actors” such as hackers. The bill didn’t pass.

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