What is ‘Right to Repair’ & Should You Care?

Playstation 4 repair and modding.

The Right to Repair movement and the associated proposed legislation center around a fairly clear-cut debate with very little gray area. On the one side are consumers, who believe if they buy something, they own it and, therefore, they should have the right to fix their own stuff when something goes wrong. On the other side are manufacturers and, by extension, repair service providers, who would prefer to leave fixes to the profs.  

Here’s a neutral overview of both sides. 

Arguments in Favor of Right to Repair (Favoring Consumers)

  1. Consumer empowerment: Central to the argument that favors consumers is the “empowerment” argument. Proponents argue that consumers should have the right to repair their own devices or choose their own repair service. This empowers them to save money and potentially extend the life of their devices. Furthermore, you could argue that this freedom of choice facilitates free enterprise, which, in theory, may help to drive down prices (because an open marketplace has more competitors).  
  2. Environmental benefits: Right to Repair can reduce electronic waste by making it easier for you to fix and reuse your devices rather than discarding them, if that’s what you choose.
  3. Economic benefits: As said in the “consumer empowerment” section, a right to repair environment could foster a competitive repair market, which, in theory, has the potential to create more jobs and economic opportunities in the repair industry.
  4. Innovation and DIY culture: Encouraging repairs and modifications by tech-savvy end-users could foster a “culture of innovation” and self-reliance.
  5. Transparency and fairness: Advocates say manufacturers should provide repair information, tools, and parts to consumers or independent repair shops. They’re not saying the tools and parts should be free of charge; rather, they should be easy to obtain. 

Arguments Against Right to Repair (Favoring Manufacturers)

  1. Intellectual property concerns: Manufacturers argue that unrestricted access to repair manuals and proprietary tools can lead to intellectual property theft or compromise their trade secrets. 
  2. Safety and security risks: Among the often-stated arguments against a right to repair is the concern that improper repairs could lead to safety consumer issues, like electrical hazards, or compromise the security of devices. Safety concerns can lead to lawsuits, which can drive up consumer prices.
  3. Quality control: Manufacturers say they can guarantee the quality of repairs only when they are done through authorized channels, ensuring devices function as intended. When repairs are done outside their authorized partnerships, they can’t guarantee the quality of the work. Related to this is the use of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts versus aftermarket parts that may be below the manufacturers’ standards. 
  4. Economic impact on manufacturers: Allowing uncertified or unapproved (or uncontrolled) third-party repairs could impact the revenue streams of manufacturers, especially those who rely on after-sales services. 
  5. Warranty and liability issues: There is a risk that amateur or unauthorized repairs could damage the device, leading to potential legal and warranty issues.

Proposed Legislation

The proposed right to repair legislation generally aims to:

  • Require manufacturers to provide consumers and independent repair shops with access to repair manuals, tools, and genuine parts.
  • Ensure devices are designed in a way that doesn’t prevent repairs by third parties.
  • Possibly include exemptions to protect intellectual property and ensure safety standards.

This legislation is seen as a way to balance the interests of consumers and manufacturers, ensuring fair access to repairs while addressing concerns related to safety, security, and intellectual property.

As of the end of 2023, four states have enacted right to repair legislation: 

  • Colorado: Enacted a consumer right to repair law pertaining to agricultural equipment. 
  • California: Enacted a right to repair act that pertains to electronics and appliances, but was unsuccessful in passing a law that pertained to powered wheelchairs. 
  • New York: Passed a right to repair law that pertains to the sale of digital electronic equipment and has other legislation pending that has to do with vehicles.    
  • Minnesota: Enacted a law pertaining to commerce and has legislation pending as well. 

Several other states have pending legislation, all of which you can follow on the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Right to Repair page.

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