Wall Street Journal Editorial Tries To Pretend That Fixing Repair Monopolies Is Bad For Your Health
from the greed-is-not-an-argument dept
So we’ve noted for a long time how efforts to monopolize repair have resulted in a growing, bipartisan interest in right to repair legislation in more than a dozen states. Whether it’s Sony and Microsoft’s efforts to monopolize game console repair, Apple’s tendency to monopolize phone repair (and bully independent repair shops), or John Deere making its tractors a costly nightmare to fix, a sustained backlash has been growing against draconian DRM, rampant abuse of copyright, and other behaviors that make repairing products you own as annoying and expensive as possible.
Granted this anger has extended into the medical arena, where the problem isn’t just a costly hassle, it’s a matter of life and death. This was particularly true during COVID, given many hardware manufacturers made getting access to repair manuals and parts cumbersome and expensive, if not impossible. As such, several states (including Texas) have been pushing both right to repair legislation that generally protects consumers, as well as legislation that takes aim at device manufacturers that make it an expensive headache for hospitals to repair their own equipment in a timely fashion.
Granted as more and more states push such legislation, more and more companies have taken to pushing misleading claims about what this legislation does. Whether it’s Apple’s attempt to claim that such legislation will turn states into “meccas for hackers” (which sounds kind of cool, honestly), or the auto industry’s false claim that such laws will help sexual predators, there’s been no shortage of sleazy efforts to undermine such laws using specious reasoning and unethical claims. And given that legislative efforts keep getting blocked, it has proven pretty effective.
Enter the Wall Street Journal, which this week joined the fun with a nonsensical editorial claiming that medical device right to repair legislation being pushed in Texas is somehow harmful to human health. The piece basically just consists of several paragraphs of author Tom Giovanetti lauding the miraculous innovation of copyright, while claiming the bipartisan right to repair movement is some kind of “leftist” plot. Why would the activist and reform groups operating on a shoestring budget do this? They hate innovation, apparently:
“American innovation is dependent on the protection of intellectual property. It encourages innovation by discouraging theft. But there are those who are philosophically opposed to intellectual property protection. Left-leaning public interest law firms and activist groups led by U.S. PIRG, an association of public-interest law firms, have been trying for years to undermine intellectual-property protection through ?right to repair? campaigns in state legislatures. During this legislative session they are pushing their anti-innovation agenda in the guise of a ?right to repair? advanced medical devices.”
For one thing, USPIRG is neither “left-leaning” nor a law firm (but no matter I guess, huh?). But it’s also amazing how the author just cheerfully floats over the fact that manufacturers enjoy a monopoly on tools, documentation, and replacement parts, and that those monopolies have been putting human lives at risk before, during, and likely after COVID. These restrictions often drive repair technicians to dangerous third-party fixes and firmware because they literally can’t get the help, tools, parts, or documentation they need; so often it’s the repair monopolies and DRM that are putting lives at risk, not the efforts to fix the problem.
Industry pretty consistently tries to claim that opening up access to essential repair tools and documentation somehow always poses some diabolical threat to security, privacy, and safety, when that’s never really been true. That doesn’t really stop Giovanetti, who also trots out the China bogeyman for good measure:
“Forcing disclosure of these advanced medical technologies and opening them up to uncertified technicians may also represent a cybersecurity threat. You may be troubled by the idea that voting machines can be hacked, but what about opening up MRI machines and PET scanners? Patients could be endangered by sabotaged medical devices, but they might also suffer from malfunctions that cause inaccurate test results and thus unidentified medical problems. Such concerns also include direct theft of American innovation by bad actors seeking advanced U.S. technology, such as China.”
Those who work in the industry and realize that draconian DRM, idiotic applications of copyright, and ham-fisted repair monopolies actively harm public health weren’t particularly impressed with the Journal’s latest hot take:
Dearest blocked @WSJ:
You (collectively, and the author who wrote this opinion piece specifically) are an idiot.
The lead hardware designer and director of regulatory compliance for a FDA-regulated medical device manufacturer.https://t.co/Jt1j8nzLeG
— Michael Graziano (@voretaq7) May 3, 2021
In particular, many of the editorial’s claims about how the FDA works weren’t even remotely close to being true:
Among other things: The FDA STILL DOESN'T REGULATE SERVICE AND REPAIR *UNLESS* IT'S DONE BY A MANUFACTURER. Absent stuff that can nuke you (requires NRC licensing) anyone can service most medical devices.
Why? BECAUSE IT'S OVERWHELMINGLY SAFE: https://t.co/NXCThJy39n
— Michael Graziano (@voretaq7) May 3, 2021
As is the Wall Street Journal’s habit on many subjects, the author tries to dress up greed as some kind of elaborate ethos, and efforts to actually implement reform as some kind of dangerous, diabolical partisan plot. But the “right to repair” movement is growing at an amazing rate because it enjoys broad bipartisan support, from John Deere owners who don’t want to drive a thousand miles and pay a small fortune just to fix the tractors they own, to medical professionals who don’t want patients to die while they navigate some company’s obnoxious repair monopoly bureaucracy just to get a ventilator to work again.