Electronic gadgets are everywhere these days, and with the number of online tutorials available on do-it-yourself (DIY) repair topics, you might think that DIY electronics repair would be a simple and common practice. Unfortunately, the issue of repairing your own electronic devices isn’t so simple, even barring the technical aspects.
Many consumer electronics companies include either proprietary systems or parts in their devices and gaining access to either of these in order to make repairs can be difficult if not downright impossible. Furthermore, attempting to repair some items on your own or through the help of an electronics repair shop has the potential to void warranties.
Electronics Companies And Access To DIY Repair Parts
As a result of these challenges, many consumer advocates are now pushing for right-to-repair legislation. The goal of right-to-repair initiatives is to push companies, particularly electronics manufacturers, into creating more consumer-friendly policies surrounding the availability of repair parts and easier access to internal components without voiding warranties.
Electronics manufacturers contend that providing access to proprietary parts could place companies at a competitive disadvantage. Furthermore, electronics companies using proprietary systems and parts believe that their actions are permissible by United States copyright and patent laws.
In some cases, repair or replacement parts aren’t a matter of the company not providing access. Instead, it becomes a matter of the part simply not existing any longer. An example of this can be found in smartphone and laptop batteries. For years, consumers who purchased these devices were able to purchase replacement batteries as the originals would inevitably lose the ability to charge over time.
Around 2016, brands like Samsung began to produce smartphones that had no removable battery at all. This meant that if the device stopped taking a charge, the only option was to replace the entire unit. Many laptops these days include this same accessibility-limiting feature, and consumer advocates claim that this is merely an attempt by manufacturers to make more money as opposed to allowing consumers the ability to amend or repair a non-functioning unit.
The Current State Of Repair Regulation Efforts
In terms of legal efforts to force electronics makers and other companies to accept right-to-repair, legislation in the United States and abroad has been gaining support. Currently, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has a provision that allows consumers to alter electronic device software so as to run custom commands in some instances. This is referred to as “jailbreaking”, and it is common practice among some smartphone users.
When it comes to hardware repairs or modifications to extend the life of electronics, New York has recently passed a bill called the Digital Fair Repair Act (DFRA). This bill allows consumers or repair shop professionals to repair or alter certain electronic devices without penalty. The bill is currently waiting to be signed by New York’s governor. While the DFRA is a piece of legislation only affecting New Yorkers, pushes for federal action remain ongoing.
Will Right To Repair Laws Change The Electronic Device Market?
If repair regulation efforts are successful around the country, they will almost certainly change the landscape for both consumers and manufacturers. Depending on how legislation is worded, electronics manufacturers may be forced into providing access to parts and systems that were once closely held company secrets.
Manufacturers may also have to incorporate right-to-repair into the design of certain products, although this may be a bit trickier to oversee. Consumers would have the ability to open, repair, modify and amend existing electronics without fear of voiding a warranty in some cases, but once again, this all comes down to how legislation is worded and what rights it grants to each party.
The issue really comes down to ownership rights. In the United States, when you purchase a product, you are the legal owner of that product. You do not own the copyright or patent for that product, meaning you can not reproduce the product yourself, but you own the unit that you purchased.
Barring any legal agreements, the manufacturer of the product no longer retains a right of ownership to the specific product you’ve purchased. The owner of the copyright or patent of the original work can still produce copies of the product.
Repairing Electronics Can Be A Sustainability Issue
Another aspect of the right-to-repair movement is sustainability. Critics of current policies point out that withholding the right to repair electronics forces consumers to throw away damaged units in order to replace them with new units. Electronic waste (e-waste) is a big problem for landfills and the environment, and many right-to-repair advocates claim that removing restrictions through legislation will result in less e-waste and cleaner, healthier outdoor spaces.
In addition to the potential for putting toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the ground, e-waste means that consumers must purchase new units that require more natural resources to manufacture. While recycling initiatives have been underway for many years that attempt to reduce e-waste and preserve resources, efforts so far have not been able to keep pace with the need for new products.