14 States Are Now Considering 'Right to Repair' Legislation

from the this-train-is-rolling dept

Five years or so ago, frustration at John Deere’s draconian tractor DRM culminated in a grassroots tech movement dubbed “right to repair.” The company’s crackdown on “unauthorized repairs” turned countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists, after DRM (and the company’s EULA) prohibited the lion’s share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned. These restrictions only worked to drive up costs for owners, who faced either paying significantly more money for “authorized” repair, or toying around with pirated firmware just to ensure the products they owned actually worked.

Of course the problem isn’t just restricted to John Deere. Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and countless other tech giants eager to monopolize repair have spent years bullying independent repair shops and demonizing consumers who simply want to reduce waste and repair devices they own.

Fast forward to 2021, and roughly fourteen different states are all considering pending right to repair legislation that would put power back in the hands of consumers and independent repair shops. Some states, like Montana, are considering different types of legislation that would cover both consumer hardware and agricultural equipment.

COVID is also pouring some gasoline on this fire, highlighting how manufacturers frequently enjoy a stranglehold over tools, documentation, and replacement parts, which can literally put human lives at risk by causing repair delays:

“Covid has changed our relationship with technology and it’s obvious that laws need to catch up,? Proctor said. ?We need devices to work and learn, but manufacturers won’t provide tools or information even when their stores are closed.”

Throughout this whole movement, companies have tried to cling tightly to nonsense in a bid to derail momentum. Usually this involves hallucinating nonexistent harms that threaten public safety and security.

Such as when Apple insisted that passing a right to repair law in Nebraska would turn the state into a “mecca for hackers.” Or more recently, when the auto industry tried to claim that expanding Massachusetts’ existing consumer tech law, to make sure that independent garages could access tools and diagnostic gear, would result in a “boom in sexual predators.” The multi-sector quest to demonize the right to repair movement is relentless, and almost always involves making up bogus harms related to security and safety:

The problem is nobody believes them, in large part because their motivations couldn’t be more obvious. And the more outlandish attacks giants like Apple make on this genuine grass roots coalition, the more attention — and momentum — it receives.

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Comments on “14 States Are Now Considering 'Right to Repair' Legislation”

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20 Comments
christenson says:

OTOH...emissions...

While the right to repair is essential, when I have a car which is supposed to operate its engine in a certain way to minimize emissions (here’s looking at you, VW!), then allowing full access lets an end user do an end-run around the "rules", harming everyone.

There’s a similar issue with automobile headlights, where you can easily buy bulbs that are bright enough to blind the oncoming traffic if you are so inclined.

The problem is a lot like that of commentary on the internet — the system dynamics change considerably as the friction for making changes is reduced.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OTOH...emissions...

You desire an automobile that stops people from doing stupid and possibly illegal things, this is nice and all but I do not want things I do not need.

Someone could install laser beams for headlights .. how you gonna stop that. Driving around CA starting forest fires with your laser headlights. Not passing this bill would stop that from happening I’m sure.

And no, it is not just like the internet. Driving around with illegally modified automobiles potentially causing collisions is not the same thing as making snide remarks on the internet and someone getting their panties in a twist about it.

christenson says:

Re: Re: OTOH...emissions...

My point about friction was that "bad behavior" (in particular individual anti-social behavior, with the required personal, nebulous and impossibly slippery definition) happens more as friction is reduced and the tools are democratized. It’s simply a feature of the problem space we live in.

"Don’t do that" isn’t particuarly good control, either, as seen with laser strikes and aircraft.

I meant to call for nuanced discussion, not to oppose a badly-needed counterbalance to "you don’t own what you buy!".

Me, I want required disclosure on all radio interfaces and a reasonable way to disable them — I really don’t want random, hacked, over-the-air updates to my car.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: OTOH...emissions...

There’s a similar issue with automobile headlights, where you can easily buy bulbs that are bright enough to blind the oncoming traffic if you are so inclined.

They can do that now, just because it’s made clear that people and companies other than the manufacturer are allowed to do repairs does not mean that other rules like emissions or other safety features get tossed in the bin.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OTOH...emissions...

People do these things already. If the states choose not to eforce emissions checking or vehicle inspection, this has zero to do with right to repair. As to lights, the industry started using insane lights in the 90s. They are or were allowed because their definitons of headlamp luminosity charts were meant to be inclusive, not exclusive, for increased brightness as well as what counts as ”white light”. If they have not updated in the last 25 years, this is not a right to repair issue.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: OTOH...emissions...

"when I have a car which is supposed to operate its engine in a certain way to minimize emissions (here’s looking at you, VW!), then allowing full access lets an end user do an end-run around the "rules", harming everyone."

Bullshit.

If a person owns a piece of property then the one and only person who can decide what to do with said property is the owner.

Protecting the public comes in the form of demands on specifications and standards. Nothing more than that.
Which is why what John Deere has a moral and proportional right to stops at voiding the warranty if someone other than a licensed contractor repairs a machine they sold.

"There’s a similar issue with automobile headlights, where you can easily buy bulbs that are bright enough to blind the oncoming traffic if you are so inclined."

…which is also not an issue unless the mechanic is inept and the safety standards applied to the vehicle fails as a result.

If anything, VW is a case in point that it would have been better by far to not let the OEM itself handle the certification of its products.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: OTOH...emissions...

car which is supposed to operate its engine in a certain way to minimize emissions (here’s looking at you, VW!), then allowing full access lets an end user do an end-run around the "rules", harming everyone

Sure. If I figure out a way to make the thing run more efficiently, not only do I get better fuel milage but I also probably put out less harmful emissions. This “everyone” you mention as being harmed, I assume, is all the oil companies who sell me less fuel.

Upstream (profile) says:

I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

A Federal law would be good, instad of a patchwork of state laws. Limiting repair options can be a real pain for people who live in remote locations. I cannot buy X product because the nearest dealer / repair place is ~200 miles away. This surely hurts the manufacturers, too, but clearly not enough to matter to them, when compared to monopolistic repair revenue.

This is one of very few examples of market failure where government is not directly complicit in that failure. I guess there is some indirect involvement, by government allowing contracts, EULAs, etc to supersede what should be much more basic, non-vaivable rights of ownership.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

"This is one of very few examples of market failure where government is not directly complicit in that failure"

Not sure this qualifies as a market failure. A manufacturer failure to support their product is more like it. In similar cases, how is the government complicit? Any examples?

Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re: I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

Many factors go into a well-functioning market, but a couple of the basic ones are:

1) Supply proportionate to demand. This promotes fair prices for buyers and fair profits for sellers.
2) Appropriate level of competition among sellers. This promotes good selection of quality products at fair prices.

Bottom line: Everyone’s reasonably happy, or at least everyone’s needs are reasonably well-met, both buyers and sellers.

With no "right-to-repair" there is a monopoly of sorts on repair. This generally breaks both rules listed above. There are no options, so no competition, and supply can be limited relative to demand. This results in high prices, long waits, poor service, etc.

Bottom line: Sellers making excessive profits while not meeting buyer’s needs, so buyers are unhappy, therefore market failure, without much, if any, government involvement.

In similar cases, how is the government complicit? Any examples?

Do a search for "telecom" in Techdirt. Government involvement in that prime example of market failure is explained in detail, over and over again. Lack of "right-to-repair" is just a small part of the telecom dumpster fire, but I cannot have my AT&T router repaired, or the firmware upgraded or replaced with a superior version by anyone except AT&T (and even they won’t do it). And the router AT&T provides is my only option. And AT&T is my only effective telecom option.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

Generalities are nice for general bullshit but not very good at addressing specific items.

Corporations are greedy and make all sorts of demands upon their customers, is this a failure of capitalism or is it just one isolated instance of right to repair?

Is it the responsibility of the federal government to provide a fertile field for business to grow? How far should said government go in this pursuit and are you willing to then be called socialist (even tho you are not)?

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

Is it the responsibility of the federal government to provide a fertile field for business to grow?
Yes. Because it’s in the public interest to have healthy businesses. Predatory businesses, no.

How far should said government go in this pursuit and are you willing to then be called socialist (even tho you are not)?
I don’t know how you come to the conclusion that it’s socialist when the government helps businesses. Regardless, as long as the actions of the government benefits the people without negative effects they could go quite far.

christenson says:

Re: Re: I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

In that software is protected by the DMCA, and parts may be protected by utility patents, I’d say there’s quite a bit of gubmn’t complicity here. [Of course, we just assigned volition to the gubmn’t allowing anti-social behavior, and it’s often not actually of one mind, not to mention we won’t agree on what’s antisocial or not!]

In theory, the gubmn’t is supposed to help address market failures — labor, last mile ISP, IOT security, natural monopolies such as utilities — tragedies of the commons, such as food safety, drug safety, air quality, roads, airwaves. Patents for small entities.

In practice, regulatory capture and making barriers to market entry is a thing…chemical industry, telecom, alcohol, drugs, junk patents.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I hope the movement continues to gain traction!

Definition: Market failure — the real market does not provide the expected pro-social benefit, or has significant social cost, such as consistent extraction of economic rent.

I would expect a reasonably aware Techdirt reader to be able to supply examples of market failure for each of the categories I mentioned:
OP had in mind John Deere tractor repair as a market failure
Car repair technical data and parts were once monopolized by the manufacturers. The gubmnt forced the data into the open, making more of a market.
In labor, large entities hold considerably unbalanced power against individuals, so it’s not really a market. Why do you think millenials are struggling?
Last mile ISP failures to provide or provide at a reasonable price (and making laws against cities taking matters into their own hands) is standard techdirt fare.
IOT devices are famously insecure…standard techdirt fare…and threatening to make the internet unusable, and enable all kinds of bad behavior.
Natural monopolies such as electric service are regulated as public utilities.
We have an Pure Food and Drug act because the president got poisoned once. We would not know about, say, e coli contamination on lettuce without governmental interventions.
Drug safety is enforced by FDA licensing. But see also Sackler family and purdue pharma; getting people lots of people hooked on opiates and having them die at 60,000 a year is a market failure.
Air quality in the US has been remarkably good in my lifetime because of EPA regulation. Belching pollution is a market failure.
Roads are a common good that are almost never provided by a market.
The RF spectrum (airwaves) are also a market failure, with the FCC deciding who gets to use what part. See the history of WLW Cincinnati for a case study.
Small entity patents supposedly help equalize the playing field for some inventors. I’ve certainly seen larger entities simply trample smaller ones in the market for inventions.

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