You may have heard about the Right to Repair movement. In recent years, countries around the world have been attempting to pass effective “right to repair” laws. All this boils down to the question, “why aren’t consumers permitted to fix their gadgets themselves?” This is a subject that the worldwide Right to Repair movement has been addressing for decades now, given the fact that the average consumer purchases an electronic gadget and knowing that it will very quickly become obsolete as its manufacturer releases newer, shinier, and more amped-up versions of the same device. RefurbMe tries to piece together an article that can tell you everything you need to know about the Right to Repair movement.
What is the Right to Repair movement?
Instead of being forced to buy entirely new products, some users want to purchase devices that can be upgraded over their lifespan, including upgrading all aspects of the device, such as the processing power, memory, and batteries. This concept is known as the right to repair, and it’s something that people in many countries are asking for legislation to support.
The movement’s goal is to get companies to make spare parts, tools, and information on how to repair devices available to customers and repair shops to increase the lifespan of products and keep them from ending up in landfills. Activists and organizations worldwide have been advocating for consumers’ right to repair their electronics and other products as part of the Right to Repair movement.
So, to sum up, the Right to Repair movement demands that all companies provide the knowledge necessary for consumers so they can repair their products, including manuals or guides that can assist them and parts that can prove helpful.
The reason behind the movement
Consumers often spend a considerable amount of money on these devices and gadgets and sometimes find them obsolete within a few years after purchase. For example, a smartphone’s battery is likely to degrade over time and slow down the device’s performance. Furthermore, if the battery is not replaceable, the consumer is forced to dump the phone and spend again on a new one.
Fragile and irreparable components also reduce the life of a product. Manufacturers drop support for functional devices and non-standard parts after some time too. Most modern devices are manufactured with irreparable components, especially if sophisticated computer chips power them. With products becoming challenging to repair, activists and consumer organizations advocate the Right to Repair movement, which aims to enable consumers to repair their electronics products by themselves or third-party technicians.
The movement first found its foothold in the 1950s. Brook Stevens, an American industrial designer, pointed out the term planned obsolescence, a marketing practice in which manufacturers artificially shorten product lifecycles and encourage consumers to buy new products every few years. This practice favored sellers and made them influence buying decisions to improve sales and increase profit.
Critiques of the planned obsolescence method say that a component repair industry could boost local businesses and create jobs. Some even note that the possibility of repairing products could cut electronic waste. Another contrary argument is that these electronic manufacturers encourage a culture of planned obsolescence, meaning that the device is designed specifically to last for a limited time and, thus, has to be replaced. This, they claim, leads to immense pressure on the environment and wasted natural resources.
One of the movement’s most prominent advocates, Repair.org, a not-for-profit organization, states that “Repair is also a critical function for all forms of re-use and even extended useful life. Products that cannot be repaired become instant electronic-waste” as quoted on their website.
Who does the Right to Repair movement affect?
The growing Right to Repair campaign is wide-reaching. It touches on everyone who has any part in developing or purchasing products and electronic goods: from customers and the independent repair shops to manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple, and others.
The purchased devices belong to the consumers who have paid for the product. Therefore, they do have a right to be able to repair their purchase. A law would protect consumers from planned obsolescence. When someone damages a phone, it should be their right as the owner to attempt to fix it.
The presence of technology parts in modern equipment has enabled manufacturers to reduce access to repair by proclaiming that repair might violate their proprietary rights. This concept is a marketing ruse and not grounded in law. Manufacturers do not have any rights to control property beyond the sale. Limitations on repair have become a severe problem for all modern equipment that also limits how equipment can be traded on the used market.
Independent repair shops
Right to repair advocates also argue that this will help boost business for small repair shops as they are an essential part of local economies. If a manufacturer has a monopoly on repairs, prices rise exponentially, and quality tends to drop. Price is a significant factor propounded by these activists. As there is a lack of competition in the repair market in the west, consumers cannot hunt for the best deal.
Arguably, the independent repair shops stand to make the most from a successful Right to Repair campaign. That explains why independent repair shop owners are among the most vocal supporters of new legislation. Repair shops believe that they should be able to acquire something as simple as a battery to help a person get more out of their phone or computer. Nowadays, repair shops source their parts from counterfeit sellers as it’s their only way to repair a product. The right to repair laws would force manufacturers to provide genuine parts.
The growing campaign is a worry for some manufacturers. Tech giants including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Tesla disfavor the movement stating it threatens the protection of intellectual property and trade secrets. They view their parts and guides as proprietary. Therefore, they don’t want these guides to be released to the public. They believe this information is a company or trade secret. For example, Dell and Patagonia happily release guides and parts for every device or product that they produce. All the essential tools and access to guides for successfully repairing a device are provided to people capable of carrying out repairs.
The right to repair in the United States
As of 2021, almost all of the 50 US states have proposed a right to repair bill. However, only one, Massachusetts, has made it a law. The focus of the proposed right to repair bills in other US states varies greatly. For instance, in Florida and South Carolina, the proposed bill concentrates on agriculture-related equipment, while the focus is on medical equipment in California.
As the 2021 legislative session has been completed in nearly all the states, the proposed bills will not become law this year. In New York, a proposed Fair Repair Act made it as far as the state’s senate. However, it arrived in the state’s assembly on the last day of the session. The vote will reconvene in January next year.
Right to repair in Europe and UK
The UK government has introduced right-to-repair rules. The aim is to extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years. So, manufacturers of products like washing machines, TVs, and refrigerators have to make spare parts available when purchasing electrical appliances. The new legislation gives manufacturers a two-year window to make the necessary changes to abide by the new legislation. However, it does not cover all electrical appliances. It includes dishwashers, washing machines, refrigeration appliances, and televisions. Smartphones and laptops, however, have been excluded.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s right to repair laws require manufacturers to ensure that electronic goods can be fixed for up to a decade. This comes as the result of legislation passed by the European Parliament. The vote is in favor of establishing more far-reaching and effective ‘right to repair’ rules. The aim is to reduce electrical waste rising in the continent due to a spike in manufacturing.
Some companies refuse to release the parts necessary to perform repairs and upgrades. That means consumers can’t fix a product they own. Instead, they need to turn to the company itself or to third-party vendors that can work on devices.
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