Right to Repair

The Year in Repair

It’s been a big a big year for Right to Repair and our quest to give people what they need to fix the electronics in our lives. From all sides -- the strength and breadth of our coalition, the legislative advocacy and the public awareness and frustration -- our work is gaining strength. Here are some of the big highlights:

Right to Repair Legislation in US States Went Viral

Apple jump-started our New Year with “BatteryGate,” when they were caught throttling phone processors in devices with run-down batteries (but not informing customers or allowing others to fix those batteries). Frustrated consumers pressed on their legislators to fight back -- and within a few weeks supporting bills in 18 states.   (link https://ifixit.org/blog/11208/batterygate-timeline/.  

We made progress in pushing past opposition in several states, passing bills out of committee in Washington, Illinois and Wyoming.  Studies were held in New Hampshire and Vermont with both state bodies opting to continue in 2019. The Massachusetts Senate also voted to establish a Study Commission.  Apple can take credit for stalling bills just long enough in New York to delay passage, and in California for spiking their hearing. John Deere is bragging openly about successfully stalling bills in agricultural states such as Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  

Thanks to the strength of our networks, and the powerful stories from affected businesses and individuals, our sponsors weren’t scared off by lobbyists – and those that were re-elected will be back with more passion and support. 2019 is going to be amazing.

U.S. Copyright Office Widely Expands Legal Tinkering for Repair

The USCO handed us a huge victory in October of 2018 by widely exempting repair from limitation under copyright law.  You can now confidently tinker with the embedded software in your cell phone, computer, home appliance, internet of things gadget, or any land-based motor vehicle (apologies to boat and aircraft owners – we didn’t ask) Even better – you can hire anyone you want to help.  The sole remaining limitation is on hacking into game consoles – an expected outcome.

This October win helped give us another boost in momentum as we gear up for a big 2019.

Link https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/10/26/right-repair-advocates-claim-major-victory-new-smartphone-copyright-exemption/?utm_term=.55d79d96424f

National Consumer Rights Organizations Throw their Support to Right to Repair

Both U.S. PIRG (and the broader Public Interest Network) and Consumers Reports Advocacy began helping move Right to Repair legislation with official support, staff assignments and media outlets.   These alliances have allowed us to directly work on legislation in more states with expert organizational help. It has been transformational and much more coordination is underway.

More major media coverage is likely as a result of these alliances.  We’ve already seen more coverage on Radio and TV than ever before building awareness of Right to Repair globally.

Right to Repair went Multi-National

EU adds new regulations requiring spare parts availability.

Coolproducts.eu https://www.coolproducts.eu/ won a critical first step for parts availability in the EU in December of 2018.   Major manufacturers in the appliance sector in Germany and Italy fought hard against repair-friendly rules but weren’t able to block everything.  Each EU member nation can add to their own rules and we hope that some will expand on repair requirements for their own citizens.

Link: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9k487p/protesters-are-slowly-winning-electronics-right-to-repair-battles-in-europe

Australia went to court against Apple for blocking repair and won.

Apple was fined by an Australian Court for being anti-competitive stemming from the BatteryGate scandal.  While the amount of the fine is trivial to Apple, we are convinced that Apple and others following them are consistently anti-competitive and should be legally constrained from blocking repair.

Link: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/apple-fined-as-australian-customers-win-right-to-repair-court-fight-2018-06-19

Italy fines both Apple and Samsung for slowing phones

More fallout from battery-gate, and probably not the last action.

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/vianneyvaute/2018/12/27/final-score-2018-what-went-right-and-wrong-in-fair-tech/#1398a984da51

Canada sets up their own Right to Repair effort

Following the documentary on Apple produced by CBC out of Toronto (Link: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1339717187772 ) MPs in Canada have begun their own Right to Repair legislation within the Canadian system.   Farmers in western provinces are particularly upset that while our US Copyright Office removed legal threats from repair on our side of the border, those threats remain in Canada.   

Link: http://cwf.ca/news/commentaries/op-ed-usmca-ip-provisions-make-for-uneven-playing-field-for-canadian-u-s-farmers/

Exploding E-Waste Adds Municipalities to the Campaign.

Cities and towns are experience a whole new set of challenges related to e-waste – because imbedded batteries themselves are explosive and dangerous to handle.   

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/11/explosive-problem-with-recycling-ipads-iphones-other-gadgets-they-literally-catch-fire/?utm_term=.35eeecfa044d

Right to Repair helps lower these risks.  More repair means less waste in the first place.  Better yet – under Right to Repair statutes, manufacturers will have to provide the documentation everyone needs to find valuable, broken, and dangerous parts. It is possible that Right to Repair bills filed in 2019 could include additional requirements related to batteries.

Looking Ahead to 2019:

More bills, more hearings, more media attention and more allies will create the climate for a perfect storm to carry at least one bill through in 2019.  Once one state goes first – the rest will want to do the same. OEMs will have little choice but to voluntarily comply nationally or become subject to a crazy quilt of different statutes.   

Australia takes a bite out of Apple

The Australian equivalent of consumer protection fined Apple $ 9 million (AU) for having bricked phones illegally under the scandal known as Error 53. 

While $7 million (US) won't even register as a blip on the Apple balance sheet -- the story is far more valuable.  Today's front page of the WSJ headlined the story as "Apple Fined as Customers win a Right to Repair battle".    Coverage has been world-wide. 

Apple has continued to modify products they sold, and no longer own, using various firmware updates that have proven to be damaging to consumers.  "Battery-Gate" is just a more recent example of the dangers of letting an OEM modify equipment surreptitiously.   

Apple has also failed to mention, or document, many other product defects that require repairs they do not want to offer -- such as fixing touch disease (a manufacturing defect).  While no products are technically perfect,  our view is that if Apple doesn't want to make repairs -- they shouldn't be actively preventing consumers from seeking repairs elsewhere.  

Australia's action today is only the beginning of legislative action that will restore our collective right to repair.  



The Circular Monopoly -- Why OEMS hate Right to Repair

We’re often asked why Repair is monopolized – and the answer is always “Follow The Money”. There are three reasons that money is at the heart of the issue.  Stock value, Services Revenue, Aftermarket Control.  We call this the Circular Monopoly. 

Step One: Keep Selling More New Products

Stock values are key to executive compensation.  Analysts look for revenue growth of new product offerings.  The more new products sold, rather than repaired, the better the picture for stocks.  Executives are therefore highly motivated to make new sales as attractive as possible, and repair limitations feed that cycle.  Apple does a great job of keeping their customers on a steady diet of upgraded products instead of simply repairing what they've already got.  

Step Two: Feed Services Revenue

Services revenue is also a driver for monopolized repair.  John Deere's repair monopoly has greater benefits to the Dealership network than to Deere itself.  Farmers don’t buy new tractors frequently, but the equipment itself needs constant repair.  Car dealers faced exactly the same problem with Automotive Right to Repair.  Following passage, the auto industry adjusted, the dealership service experience has become notably more consumer-friendly, and despite strident warnings from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the sun still rises in the morning.

Step Three - Eliminate the Used Market

Control of the aftermarket is also a powerful driver for many OEMs.  Used equipment, like used cars, is always an option for a purchase, just as with used cars.  Equipment that cannot be repaired, for reasons of policy or practicality – is very hard to resell on the used market.  Repair must be widely and competitively available for used markets to function.   

Closing the loop on repair drives drives used equipment buyers to the showroom for a new product – feeding the stock value of the OEM, feeding the exclusive dealership model, and destroying the secondary market for older equipment.

Its a circular monopoly. 


Are Contracts Fair, or Feudal?

Are Contracts Fair, or Feudal?

According to Law Professor Josh Fairfield of Washington and Lee University, corporate oligarchs—such as Apple, John Deere, and CISCO—have taken back enough property rights of ownership to qualify as Feudal Lords. Peasants (meaning, all of us) no longer own equipment in the traditional sense. We merely rent it from the Lord. Fairfield's analogy, discussed in Owned Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom, is perfect.