This article is written by Ridhi Mittal, a student of Symbiosis law school, Noida. This article talks about the right to repair movement going around the world for the promotion of rules and legislations that introduce the right to repair laws.
Right to repair is a movement that started a long time back and is still in existence. This movement is introduced in the favor of those rules and regulations that play a major role in the introduction of the right to repair laws. The goal of this movement is to get companies to make spare parts, tools, and any information on how to repair consumer gadgets to increase their lifespan and to avoid them ending up in landfills. The idea behind the right to repair movement is that the one who creates should have the right to repair or get it repaired himself. This is a common concept in appliances and gadgets like cars, fridges, etc. but is a very recent concept in terms of advocates.
Right to repair movement
The idea for this movement originated in the USA where the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, 2012 required the manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles.
When we talk about the right to repair movement we talk about decades of struggle of the advocates fighting for the rights of consumers to repair their products themselves. Whenever an individual buys any electronic gadget, like a smartphone, he tends to visit the repair center. This is because when the phone is new it functions great but as time passes, there are huge updates for installation, the battery becomes weak and the gaming console may require too many hard resets. When such situations are encountered by the consumers they are left at the mercy of manufacturers who make repairs inaccessible for most, by dictating who can fix your device and making it a pretty expensive deal. The question raised in this movement is why aren’t the consumers permitted to fix their gadgets themselves. The advocates are trying to pass effective right-to-repair laws. But this movement, although no surprise, has faced a lot of resistance from tech giants like Apple and Microsoft. This movement has its roots in the dawn of the computer era in the 1950s. This movement argues that these giant electronic manufacturers are encouraging a culture of ‘planned obsolescence’. This is a system whereby the design of any gadget is such that it lasts a particular time only and after that particular period it has to be mandatorily replaced.
Through this, another issue they raised is that it is creating pressure on the environment because replacing hundreds of thousands of gadgets after every certain period pollutes the environment and leads to wastage of natural resources. Manufacturing an electronic device is a highly polluting process. It makes use of polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuel, which harms the environment. According to a New York Times report, Apple represents roughly 83 percent of its contribution to the heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere throughout its life cycle. It’s about 57 percent for the average washing machine. Another reason for the advocates to start this movement is to help provide business to the small repair shops that constitute an important part of local economies. As talked about economically, when there is a monopoly of one person in the market, the prices are too high, sometimes even unaffordable, but if there is no monopoly then the price is the law as there is competition between people. To extract customers, the manufacturer keeps a lower price than the other. Therefore, involving small repair shops is a benefit to both customers and the economy.
There is a right-to-repair advocacy group known as ‘The Repair Association’, which has several policy objectives. Some of which are as follows:
- The consumer shall be well aware of his product. He should have complete knowledge and access to manuals, schematics, and software updates and to which the software license shouldn’t limit the transparency of the object in the sale.
- The parts and tools to service devices, including diagnostic tools, should be made available to third parties, including individuals.
- For a customer to install custom software, the government needs to legalize unlocking, adapting, and modifying a device.
- The design and structure of the product should be such that repair is flexible and not rigid.
Other reasons or benefits in support of the right to repair laws are:
- If the movement is successful the e-waste generated will be reduced. The mountain pile of electrical waste will tend to decrease in size.
- In terms of money, it will be a great saving to the consumer pockets as the extra or unnecessary expenditure will be cut down.
Giant tech industries have been lobbying against the right to repair movement. The giant tech companies include Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Amazon, and many more. They oppose this movement by providing an argument that if they open their properties to a third party that will lead to their exploitation, and not just that, but also will endanger the security and safety of the devices. Companies like Microsoft and Google argue that giving them access and giving in on this movement would allow unvetted access to sensitive diagnostic information and software. Supporting this Elon Musk also said that such an act would lead to the weakening of the cybersecurity system and therefore become prone to attacks. Tesla even fought against the right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cybersecurity. But Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak showed his support for the movement by saying that if it weren’t for this open technology world, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Other companies including Apple argued that they just want protection and safety, which otherwise will not be there, and as far as e-waste is considered they are working on reducing it. For instance, Apple expanded its free, independent repair provider program in 200 countries, and also the access to genuine spare parts, information on repairs, and tools for out-of-warranty repairs was extended. Microsoft too pointed out improving its battery and hard drive for its third-generation surface laptop.
Movement around the world
This right to repair movement is not based in any single state or country but spreads all around the world. There are several countries in the said movement. Some of them are the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and also unions like the European Union.
The right to repair concept originated from the land of the United States. When Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, 2012 was passed in Massachusetts, it required the automobile manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information which would allow anyone to repair their vehicles. The State passed an amendment in the 2020 general elections to remove loopholes in the law that gave a window to companies like Tesla. This amendment requires manufacturers to support an open data platform by the 2022 release year. This will be accessible to the owners and independent repair shops through a mobile app or a similar means and provide the same information that their certified repair persons can access. Companies like Apple Inc. started fighting such bills in mid-2016 when a larger right to repair movement began. This movement was led by TRA (The Repair Association), gaining a boost from the farming sector as the farmers had the problem of not getting to repair their tractors by themselves. In 2017, the California-based company started offering battery discounts to affected users, which could have been avoided if Apple permitted third-party battery replacements, and last year Apple was fined $113 million under the accusation that it purposely, using an artificial method, slowed down the older models of iPhone. Recently, after Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14036, the Federal Trade Commission made a unanimous vote and enforced the right to repair as a policy. It mandated taking action against the companies that will limit the type of repair work that an independent repair shop can do.
The right to repair laws in the UK were effective from July 1, 2021. This law includes all the electronic appliance manufacturers to provide the consumers with spare parts for getting the repair done either by themselves or by the local repair shops. For instance, a door hinge for a washing machine. Products like smartphones remain excluded from this set of laws. Also, they are required to make available certain complicated parts to the professional repair shops. This law gives a two-year grace period to come into compliance. This is a 2-year window for any manufacturer to amend or change whatever is required for him to completely abide by these rules. The introduction of these right-to-repair rules has been done for the prime objective of making the purchase of such products and their repairs easy enough for the buyer. They aim to extend its lifespan up to 10 years.
EU’s right to repair laws require manufacturers to ensure that electronic goods can be repaired for up to a decade. This was seen as a result of the legislation that was passed by the European Union parliament by voting in favor of establishing a more far-reaching and effective right to repair rules. They aim on reducing electrical waste caused and have been on a rise in the continent since the spike in manufacturing. In 2010, the trend of making repairs to devices spread from the east into Western Europe. In July 2017, the European Parliament approved recommendations regarding the passing of laws that will give consumers the right to repair their electronics. The ability to repair devices is seen by these recommendations as a means to reduce waste to the environment. One of the major areas to focus on under these recommendations was consumer appliances that include refrigerators and washing machines. The right-to-repair facets of appliances were a point of contention between consumer groups and appliance manufacturers in Europe, the latter who lobbied the various national governments to gain favorable language in the Directive. Therefore, in the end, the EU passed legislation in October 2019 that required manufacturers, after 2021, to supply parts to professional repairmen for a time of 10 years. In 2020, a new ‘circular economy action plan’ was drafted which included the electronic right to repair for EU citizens.
Right to repair laws is a movement by advocates against the high-tech giant companies to take the rights of repair from them. These companies, Apple, Google, Microsoft for instance, keep the rights to even the smallest of the defects to themselves and create a situation of monopoly in the market. This drowns the business of the small local repair workers thereby affecting economies. These repairs cost the consumer a lot which leads them to eventually withdrawing. Also, these companies manufacture such products that are short-term based and mandates the consumer to change the product in a couple of years which in return creates a lot of e-waste and harms the environment. The lawyers fight against both these issues of economic monopoly and negative effects on the environment. These huge tycoons have a reply to this movement and reason to support their resistance towards it. Leakage of harm to this data is something that isn’t acceptable and thus they would fight against the movement. Talking about the environment, they are taking certain measures to curb the environmental harm caused by these gadgets. Therefore, both sides have valid points and this decades-long movement is still ongoing. This movement is not limited to any one state but has spread all over the world and has also brought changes in the laws of countries like the USA and UK. organizations like the EU have also been a significant part of this movement ensuring the application of right-to-repair laws in the respective countries. Seeing the situation in other countries, it can be said that right-to-repair laws can be valuable in countries like India, where service networks are often spotty and authorized workshops are few and far between in the hinterland. India is known for its ‘jugaad’ and the informal repair sector is a very good example of it. But the quality provided by these jugaads is not very up to the mark therefore, bringing that right that to repair laws in India could improve the substantial quality.
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