New York passed the nation’s first statewide right to repair bill. But while the Governor signed the bill into law, she introduced multiple changes right at the end that will limit its scope.
It’s been a long road for New York’s right to repair bill. It could have (and now does) serve as the first state law to provide fundamental requirements to facilitate device repair. But after six months of waiting for a signature, we almost gave up hope. That changed today: with a big catch.
For months, we were unsure whether New York’s right to repair bill would become law, despite having passed the legislature. In New York, after the legislature passes a bill, it essentially waits for the governor to ask for the bill to be signed. It doesn’t make it to the Governor’s desk until that request, and therefore the “automatically sign, veto or become law” clock never ticks. If the Governor does not request the bill before the end of the year, the bill expires and does not become law. It’s like a soft veto that the legislature can’t override.
When we last wrote about the New York Right to Repair bill, I was in jeopardy of exactly the outcome. The bill passed in June 2022, but as of early December, Governor Hochul had not yet requested that the bill be sent to her desk. If she didn’t do it by December 31, she would expire and the whole process of passing the bill would have started all over again. But that changed on December 16, when the bill arrived on the Governor’s desk at her request. That started the clock; sign or veto by December 28, or the bill would automatically become law.
The good news is that Governor Hochul signed the right to repair bill and it will become law. The bad news is that several last-minute changes will significantly weaken the law.
Last-minute changes weaken the law
Known as the “Digital Fair Repair Act,” New York’s Right to Repair law served as a model for the United States. In most parts of the country, repairing the gadgets and devices you buy is difficult at best, and impossible in many cases. The law, as designed, ensured that independent repair shops could purchase at a reasonable price, authentic parts and schematics. Regular citizens would also have access to these materials.
It wasn’t perfect, thanks to lobbying, but it was a big step forward. Unfortunately, when Governor Hochul announced that she signed the law, she also presented several changes the legislator agreed to do at the last minute. Some of those changes are harmless and even noticeable. Manufacturers are required by law to make parts available for repair, for example. But one of those changes altered that requirement. At first glance, it may seem like a change designed to increase the cost of repairs, but it makes some sense. The new language allows manufacturers to provide “part assemblies rather than individual components when the risk of improper installation increases the risk of injury.”
Most DIY repairs are safe, even replacing your laptop battery if you discharge it properly first. But some repairs can be dangerous, and in this scenario, a manufacturer might provide an “all-in-one kit” that minimizes that danger. At first glance, it’s a reasonable and potentially good change (as long as manufacturers don’t abuse the concept). But other changes have a more drastic effect on the law.
The Digital Fair Repair Act would have applied to existing devices on the market, for example. But thanks to one change, Governor Hochul requested that the law now only apply to “digital electronic equipment that is first manufactured and sold or used in New York for the first time on or after July 1, 2023.” That drastically reduces the number of devices the new law applies to, though eventually, that list will grow as time goes on. Unfortunately, the very idea of Right to Repair is to keep existing devices working, thus removing the equipment the law needs most.
But another couple of changes could have far-reaching consequences. First, the law will now be sold in “business-to-business” or “business-to-government” settings, which would include things like school laptops. The other change removed the requirement to “provide to the public any passwords, security codes, or material to override security features” and exempted “printed board assemblies that may enable device cloning” from parts that must be supplied by manufacturers. manufacturers.
That first part means that if a manufacturer locks repairs behind a password, they won’t give you the password so you can do the repairs yourself. That’s a common tactic used in retail settings, such as McDonald’s McFlurry machines. But given the loophole, manufacturers could also start adding passwords to retail devices. The latest change means Apple and other companies can continue to lock parts to serial numbers, preventing you from swapping out a broken camera or fingerprint module.
Taken together, those changes significantly weaken the bill. But despite that fact, right-to-redress activists seem hopeful that the law will pass.
Hope for a future favorable to repairs
Passing a Right to Repair law is a big step forward. Large companies frequently fight repair efforts and take steps to make the process more difficult. When a large enough area passes a law, it helps everyone. France’s recent law requiring manufacturers to publish repair manuals led manufacturers to make those manuals public to everyone, including people in the United States.
New York is a large enough state that it is difficult for manufacturers to ignore this law, and the law is broad enough that it is difficult for those same manufacturers to comply with it in the state alone. Chances are, the changes it brings will help everyone in the United States and possibly beyond. And when a state passes a law, many often follow it, sometimes while closing loopholes from previous states. As iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens explained to Review Geeks:
This is a big step in the right direction. The bill requires information on free service, parts availability and the sale of repair tools to independents.
More reform is needed. Serialized parts continue to be a challenge, and the business team is critical to keeping schools and hospitals running. I hope many states introduce bills that close these loopholes in the next legislative session.
Passing the law is a big step forward. Bigger than the ‘small step back’, the breaking changes enacted. Big business has long fought efforts to pass right-to-repair legislation, even as those same companies funded studies showing the move is a good one overall. With each step, companies are (reluctantly) embracing the desire for DIY repairs more, announcing new DIY repair programs, providing how-to videos, and even working with companies like iFixit to provide official parts.
But those changes are grudging at best. Ultimately, manufacturers care about the bottom line first, and buying new is better for profit than repairing old devices. It’s a tale as old as time, and it’s not limited to mending. Laws requiring manufacturers to install seat belts in cars began at the state level and were fought by (though not all) automakers. Laws like the Digital Fair Repair Act are a starting point that could lead to a similar result. They don’t need to be perfect from the start; they just need to light the fire.