The right to repair your own devices has been a growing problem around the world, as some companies make self-repair more and more difficult. The US state of New York just passed the first modern right-to-repair law, but what does it actually do?
Many modern electronic devices are difficult to repair, in part because miniaturization and waterproofing make accessing internal components more time consuming, and also because many companies restrict access to repair manuals and replacement parts. Apple is one of the worst offenders, having restricted manuals and parts to authorized technicians for years, and the company’s new self-repair program requires renting expensive equipment. The problem isn’t limited to consumer electronics either: Farmers have pushed for repair legislation so they can repair their own tractors and other equipment.
The Digital Fair Repair Act
There have been a few bills in the state and federal legislatures outlining the right to redress, but most of them haven’t gotten very far. The Fair Repair Act was introduced in the House of Representatives in June 2021 by Rep. Joseph D. Morelle (D-NY-25), but has yet to pass the Senate and its fate in the new US-controlled House. republicans. It is uncertain. However, New York State has made steady progress on its own bill, which was just signed into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul.
The text of the bill explains that “this bill will protect consumers from the monopolistic practices of manufacturers of digital electronic products. This legislation will require manufacturers to make non-trade secret diagnostic and repair information available to third-party repairers. Nothing prevents third-party repairers from being technically competent to complete digital repairs, other than the lack of information manufacturers have.”
The bill is intended to put everyone on the same level as licensed repair shops. Device manufacturers must provide the same repair information and publicly available parts that they provide to authorized repair shops. Although the law only applies to New York, I fix it He points out that when France passed a repair law last year, some companies made their repair manuals available to anyone online for free. Even if other states and the federal government are slow to move on similar legislation, the Digital Fair Repair Act will almost certainly benefit everyone trying to repair electronics that are also sold in New York. It will apply to products sold after July 1, 2023.
There are some significant limits to the new New York law. It sets out a number of exceptions, including “certain public safety communications equipment,” digital appliances, motor vehicles, and off-road equipment such as construction and mining equipment. Farmers are also marginalized one more timeas farm and utility equipment are exempt: another win for John Deere.
The law still appears to apply to computers, phones, tablets, and other devices a typical person might own, but companies don’t have to make it easy for them. The bill explains that device manufacturers must “make available to the owner and independent repair providers, on fair and reasonable terms,
any special documentation, tools and parts necessary to access and reset the lock or function when it is disabled in the course of diagnosing, maintaining or repairing the equipment”. That probably means Apple’s ridiculous tool-rental program for self-repairing iPhones is still legal, as long as Apple’s lawyers can call it “fair and reasonable” in court.
Finally, there is the possibility that the state courts strike down the entire law. That doesn’t seem very likely, given that corporate lobbying has already severely limited the scope of the legislation, but anything could happen.
Source: iFixit, New York Senate