There’s a consumerist revolution blooming in the United States, centering around the right to repair and modify the things you buy without the approval of the manufacturer that made them. The latest major victory occurred in the New York state senate, where a sweeping bill making repair information and parts available to consumers passed by a wide margin.
S4104, the “Digital Fair Repair Act,” still needs to pass the New York state assembly, and then be signed in by the governor, something that’s unlikely to happen before 2022. But the unprecedented nature of the bill and its landslide approval of 51 votes to 12 indicate a quick shift in attitudes in favor of right to repair, in at least some parts of the country.
The bill includes provisions that nails down practical access for consumers repairing their own devices, for everything from budget smartphones to quarter-million-dollar farm tractors, and allows them to hire third-party repair personnel if they lack the technical capability. The Digital Fair Repair Act requires manufacturers to supply repair instructions, replacement parts (if available), and necessary tools in order to make repairs possible.
This extends to software as well. According to the letter of the bill, manufacturers must allow third-party repair experts and end-users access to “special documentation, tools, and parts needed to reset the [digital] lock or function when disabled in the course of diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of the equipment.” In addition to the money saved on repairing versus replacing older equipment and electronics, right to repair advocates tout the environmental benefits of keeping devices longer.
There are a few opportunities for loopholes here. All of the manufacturer’s requirements are “on fair and reasonable terms.” In English: you still have to pay for parts and tools, and possibly information on repair procedures if it doesn’t already exist. There are also exemptions for trade secrets — so Google wouldn’t be compelled to break down its image processing tech as a means of “repairing” a phone camera, for example — and it doesn’t apply to standard consumer car and trucks or parts, medical devices, or medical software (which are covered by other laws).
Even so, the victories in the NY state senate and other legislative bodies around the country are encouraging, as such legislation enjoys wide bipartisan support. Even the powerful lobbying arms of manufacturers seem to be having limited success in shooting down similar bills.
Image credit: iFixit