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:

In particular, many of the editorial’s claims about how the FDA works weren’t even remotely close to being true:

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.

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Anonymous Coward says:

American innovation is dependent on the protection of intellectual property. It encourages innovation by discouraging theft.

Wow dude. Way to be completely wrong. Modern American innovation is stunted by modern American "intellectual property" laws. Innovation is discouraged by "IP" laws that penalize/ban innovation that anyone can argue is somehow related to their own works.

It is kind of like someone took a look at the history of western science and said "These people are learning from each other, and frequently come up with ideas based on the ideas that came before. Let us have less of this."

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"American innovation is dependent on the protection of intellectual property. It encourages innovation by discouraging theft."

drops the several patents for making a PB&J here
Da’Faq is wrong with you?

Discouraging theft.
Ah yes recalls the story but can’t find a link but I’m mostly right in recalling the big details.
Someone went down in a drug store, another customer grabbed a sugar testing unit (IIRC) off the shelf, discovered other customer was super low. They then arrested the good samaritan for stealing the blood tester.

IP matters more than human lives, exactly how does this fulfill the promise of it being for the benefit of the people?

Millions of dollars were wasted on the lawsuit over checks notes ROUNDED RECTANGLES ON A PHONE.
Imagine the horrors that might have happened if China had stolen this super important tech & abused it to lead to… cats laying down with dogs!!!!!

We had vents that could not be used because the maker couldn’t or wouldn’t provide parts. In the name of patents the national stockpile of supplies didn’t have ANY vents that were purchased (and magically the company that bought the company turned out a unit really similar with a much higher price). When people tried to find ways to SAVE PEOPLES LIVES, the first response what to threaten to sue them.
These are the kind of people who would sue the fire department for draining their pool to save their house.

The world used to be much better when regular people could zip into radio shack to pick up a replacement tube for their TV & knew where to put it because they printed the damn diagrams inside the tv’s.

Now everything is a secret black box, can’t be repaired by us, we can’t even be told everything is is learning & reporting back about us to FSM knows where all in the name of protecting profits no matter how they manage to get them. Everything is designed to fail & we have to accept it because its a crime to open up the things you own & try to fix it yourself.

They see me as a criminal…
My iPod(1) (running the RockBox Firmware) died after a fall off the bed. I then cost Apple trillions by using a specialty pry tool to open the case, bought another aftermarket battery, then stuffed in an ide to cf converter and put an sd card into a SD to CF adapter, stuffed it all back in, then used iTunes to restore the basic firmware, then put RockBox on top of it.
So I now have a working iPod with way more storage space, longer battery life. And I’m an evil evil criminal to these IP assholes.

(1) My frankenipod, put together from 2 hand me down ipods that stopped working for their owners that I tinkered 1 working & 1 parts pool out of. The horrors of not spending $800 to get a new music thingy…

Bobvious says:

Re: they see me as a criminal

They see me fixin’, my iPod
With RockBox, I fixed it for less than thirty
Gonna fix it for less than thirty, Gonna fix it for less than thirty,
Gonna fix it for less than thirty, Gonna fix it for less than thirty,

Got more storage, and battery
Did it myself for less than thirty,
Gonna fix it for less than thirty, Gonna fix it for less than thirty,
Gonna fix it for less than thirty, Gonna fix it for less than thirty

ECA (profile) says:

you would think

That the price of the product includes a small % to repair the device. At least 1% of the failures. Or even replacement.

You would think that the creator of the product, would Love to sell over priced Parts to Many repair locations, that may never use them. But that also means the maker has to have a supply, so the repair person dont go out looking for something Cheaper, and NOT controlled.

You would think that having Millions of repair locations around the nation would be better, then 1, where you have to send the device, have it SIT until others are repaired, and then fixed, and sent Back to you over a 1-4 week period.

You would think having local repairs on many products by 1 small company would be quicker and more responsive to your needs. That if you had a problem WITH the fix, it could be fixed again under a general warranty.

You would think, that a Major corp would/could give you something MORE then a 30-90(day) 1 year warranty, IF they thought the product was so good.(I remember 10 year warranty in car batteries)(I remember 10 year warranty on Hard drives).

You would think that the repair facilities for the corp would be fast and pay employees fair wages(look it up, they arnt).

Why do we believe Made in China is the FAULT of being made in China? So much is made in China BECAUSE, or the Material costs, the Labor, the Pollution laws. Where do you want them made? They SAY its to expensive to be made in America. I wonder why?(No I dont). Its cause the CEO/Owners tend to want wages 10-100 times higher then the employee’s, Mostly. That Property prices tend to be In HEAVEN covered with Gold, Even after the states ALMOST give it away for free. Building prices are Beyond belief, because we SHIP Wood to China to make products so we raise prices Across the USA to match. then Ship it back and ITS NOT any cheaper.

Anyone think the Gov. could fix this? Maybe, but I dont think they are smart enough or are Just Scared to do it.
China is getting abit upset, as they took on the Role of Major Manufacture, of the World And has found out the Hard way, WHY the other nations DIDNT want to do it. Where do you Put the pollution?

The Claim about China products being bad is abit short sighted. Do you think a Corp has china create the product without giving The OK to send a piece of crap, That wanted? I would not think so. I would rather suggest its a Fix to make the product fail in the long run. A small fix or a resister that is to hot and fails 1 year and 1 day after you turn it on.

Copyrights and IP,?, Go look up JVC, find out where your pocket radio was DESIGNED and CREATED, Where miniaturization was CREATED. Go look up the history of the TFT monitor and the creator NOT being able to sell the idea. Go look up Zip compression, and ask WHY a major corp would not buy it from the maker.

Lets ask a strange question about operating systems. How many are there? Windows? Linux has so many varieties and abilities that Programmers Love the environments, and its easy to fix and adjust to DO WHAT YOU WANT. If you have abit of time you can get and pay a person to make drivers Fairly fast. IF it ever gets more backing then JUST the community. Before 2000 most games were created under Linux because of the programming(and not needing to PAY for it) and it not being overwhelmed by Background tasks in windows.
Anyone seen the Picture of a Military Jet with a Windows Blue screen?

BernardoVerda (profile) says:

Re: you would think

You appear to have inadvertently missed a few characters when typing. With corrected numbers (and typos) that should actually read:

It’s because the CEOs/Owners tend to want wages 100’s – 1000’s of times higher than the employees.

.

(Additionally, I personally would have used "expect" or "feel entitled to", rather than soft-pedalling it as "tend to want" — but arguably that’s merely a matter of judgment or opinion, rather than of fact.)

Bloof (profile) says:

It’s tragic the way that vast swathes of america view ‘owning the libs’ as being more important than their own wellbeing. it means the worst actors can now turn nonpartisan issues like right to repair laws into something the lunatic contrarians will vote against because libs also agree they’re a good idea.

‘Democrats support right to repair laws! You don’t want to help the democrats, do you?’

See also: Section 230, net neutrality. municipal broadband…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

owning the libs

The term ‘libs’ has lost all meaning at this point. It’s just another boogyman for the placeholder ‘other’. With the strongest implications given that everyone is supposed to replace said placeholder with whatever person or group enrages them enough to regard everything they do as evil and un-american.

It works precisely because everyone is perfectly willing to imagine whatever personal evil is actually filling in that spot. It’s also the reason the US of A will fall apart within the next decade or two. As far too many people will see nothing but pure evil lurking behind every corner, and distrust everyone around them to the point that the thought of violence against their perceived enemies will be their only salvation. Interesting times lie ahead for nothing more than the unwillingness to think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s tragic the way that vast swathes of america view ‘owning the libs’ as being more important than their own wellbeing.

The key is to get them to believe that the first actually leads to the latter, faithfully ignoring all experience and evidence. For them, it’s always been about owning someone, one way or another. (Including the common definition of ‘to own’.)

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carl636 says:

Company has rights?

Other Techdirt author positions say the companies have right to excluded
people from their platforms. (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)

How is this different?

I am not objecting to the hobbyist modifying his ipod.

But making a business around repairing a product or reverse engineering software of a product sounds like stealing from the company. (My opinion)

Have you ever thought that the product might not be profitable if you allow other people to modify the companies product?

So if the government mandates right to repair; some product may not be produced.

Also a right to repair mandate might create intentionally disposable or unfixable products.

Some smart engineer puts an undefeatable pressure or air switch inside the product which bricks it if it is opened. Or circuit boards that degrade when exposed to air or humidity. Or just a load of epoxy inside.

If companies want to produce repairable products; that is their right as well.

The market will decide.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Company has rights?

"Other Techdirt author positions say the companies have right to excluded
people from their platforms. (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)

How is this different?"

On a platform, you are using other people’s private property. With right to repair issue, you supposedly bought the product, but you are prevented from doing things with the property you supposedly own yourself. It’s not particularly hard to understand.

"But making a business around repairing a product or reverse engineering software of a product sounds like stealing from the company. (My opinion)"

Your opinion is wrong unless you’re going to make arguments against the entire first sale doctrine. Is it illegal for me to make a collage and sell it on?

"Also a right to repair mandate might create intentionally disposable or unfixable products."

As opposed to the manufacturers doing it, as you’re defending here?

If they want to advertise it as a rented product, then fine. But, if they tell you that you buy the product, then their right to prevent people from doing what they want with the product ends after the sale, unless you do want to rewrite the first sale doctrine and reverse hundreds of years of property rights.

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carl636 says:

Re: Re: Company has rights?

I consider the John Deer Tractor software example is comparable to Facebook and Twitter platform.

And software is "licensed" not sold under first sale doctrine so reverse engineering the program and modifying/selling the result is not allowed. The courts have already ruled that first sale doctrine does not apply to licensed software.

So that train has already left the station.

So they are effectively "renting" the software part of the product.

Also my comment about intentional creating unfixable products is all about choice.

Choice that the consumer can buy a company repairable product or a right to repair one.

Choice that at a company can create a company repairable product, right to repair product or a landfill product.

If you are saying that consumers do not have choice then we have a different problem to argue about.

Monopoly power …which brings me back the Facebook/Twitter bans.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Company has rights?

"And software is "licensed" not sold under first sale doctrine so reverse engineering the program and modifying/selling the result is not allowed. The courts have already ruled that first sale doctrine does not apply to licensed software."

Which is where problems come in. A person can presumably sell the tractor, including the software, and it’s treated as if they own the product then. But, if they need to do anything with the product they supposedly own, they are told that they are only renting it.

"Choice that the consumer can buy a company repairable product or a right to repair one."

The problems are the bait and switch tactics. I’ll bet no John Deere salesman told potential customers that they would never own the product, they had to find that out when they went to repair them (products that had always been user repairable without question until recently)

"Monopoly power …which brings me back the Facebook/Twitter bans."

So, what’s your solution? Remove the ability for those sites to manage their own property? Force them to host people who are driving away other users and advertisers?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Company has rights?

"I consider the John Deer Tractor software example is comparable to Facebook and Twitter platform. "

Bullshit.

If facebook and twitter operated by you giving money to someone in exchange for something called a "platform" you might have a point that it would be dishonest in the extreme for them to suddenly tell you that it was actually a lend-lease rather than the offered purchase.

But it’s not. Facebook and Twitter allow you entrance under the exact same premises a bar does. Abide by the rules and be allowed to stick around. Violate them and out you go.

No one owes you access to their private property. End of story.

*"Monopoly power …which brings me back to lying outrageously"

Fixed that for you. That a private owner decides who gets to stay on their property or not is not and never has been "monopoly power".
That Trump has just opened his own website is fscking proof of this.

teka says:

Re: Re: Re: Company has rights?

I’ve heard Apple has already taken some strong steps into flexing the big phruity phallus by using the "software is licensed" flaw. Apparently some simple hardware repairs, that any computer tech could be expected to fix, are now locked behind pointless software locks so only their in-house technicians can fix it and properly authenticate it. It’s not about quality repairs, just about making your $50 fix into a $500 fix and/or selling you a new device instead.

ladyattis (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Company has rights?

Twitter or Facebook smacking you with the ban hammer isn’t equivalent to John Deere locking you out of your own tractor. You actually own the tractor, you don’t own access to Twitter or Facebook. Also, the right to communicate is still intact as you can literally hop on just about any VPS or other hosting provider and roll yourself a blog. Just go to wordpress’ commercial site (the dot com one) and setup on for free and pay for the fancy features if you’re so inclined.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Company has rights?

How is this different?

If I own it, I should be able to repair it, or choose who to ask to repair it for me. If repair is controlled by the company that ‘sells it’, then I no longer truly own it, and if that applies to most things the I no longer control what I use to enable a normal life, and have become a serf.

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carl636 says:

Re: Re: Company has rights?

I agree you have the right to repair or modify something that you buy.

I agreed with the guy who wanted to mod his old ipod for his personal use.

I actually agree with the farmers who want to repair tractors.

They should stop buying John Deer tractors.

But I do not think you should be able to buy a bunch of new iphones, hack the software and resell it.

But the "Right to Repair" laws say the companies have to provide technical documentation, parts for sale, and diagnostic documentation to their customers and third parties.

At this point in time some companies have problems getting electronic parts to make new products. And now your going to require them to supply old parts and support beyond the warranty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Company has rights?

And now your going to require them to supply old parts and support beyond the warranty.

If they do not supply, or at least identify parts used, then an individuals right to repair does not exist. Apply your reasoning to you car, you can only use it for as long as the manufacturer supplies parts, and support their agents to repair it. Under those conditions do you own it, or do the manufacturers own it and control whether you can use it? Buy an alternative does not help where all manufacturers exert that level of control.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Company has rights?

Buy an alternative does not help where all manufacturers exert that level of control.

Yep. But you need to remember that his kind believes that there would never be any legal framework in place that would prohibit such alternatives from existing. Surely governments wouldn’t create / back monopolies nor support industry collusion that specifically prohibits competition and creation of alternatives.

You also forget that his kind believes that the cost to enter any market is always at rock bottom, and that any individual or group complaining about costs simply hasn’t worked hard enough in their life / lives to afford creating a viable competitor. Surely they must be lazy freeloading scum if they can’t afford to start their own upstanding business.

You also forget that his kind believes that no company would ever do something that would irrevocably harm the country for petty profit. Surely those constantly-breaking-records profits were only obtained via fair and just methods.

The simple thing to remember with idiots like him is that Capitalism is truly their golden calf. Nothing you say to them will convince them that Capitalism can be corrupt when abused. Let alone that it’s true purpose is to consolidate power and wealth from the many to the very few. They are just as corrupted as the practice itself, and see absolutely no problems with one company or individual holding all the power in their dealings. In the end they are the people who will gleefully sell their own rights away without a single care as to who or what gets them or to what they compensation they receive. They are in-essence slaves with delusions of grandeur.

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carl636 says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Company has rights?

Yes, my kind knows that companies are driven by profit/greed.

Profit driven companies are not fair and just.
Governments are not fair and just.

A government mandate means increased prices; companies will not lose money in this deal.

If you really want this right to repair mandate you will pay.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Company has rights?

"Yes, my kind knows that companies are driven by profit/greed."

…and your kind keeps missing the point; that no company will ever be on your side in the ring. Ever.

"Governments are not fair and just."

…but can occasionally be swayed to be on your side in the ring. If you can keep the lobbyists out.

Government can be forced to abide by standards of fairness and justice if the voters can be bothered to care. That’s how "democracy" works.
Companies can only be forced to the same by way of government power.

This is why saner people leave governing and lawmaking to governments rather than let the highest bidder rule.

"If you really want this right to own the shit you buy you will pay."

Fixed that for you.

Also, know how I can tell you are being a disingenious asshole here? By looking at every nation where the "right to repair" isn’t controversial and the economy works anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Company has rights?

Apparently his kind thinks that companies will always try to screw consumers over by raising prices if consumers and/or the government don’t do what they want.

If so, you’d think that he’d also have realized that given how untrustworthy and greedy companies are, they’d also raise prices when government policies are favorable to them anyway. ISPs in the US being a significant offender in this regard.

But no, his genius plan is "suck the companies’ cocks as hard as possible and hope they don’t anally rape you". You can’t make this shit up…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Company has rights?

  • Other Techdirt author positions say the companies have right to excluded
    people from their platforms. (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)

How is this different?*

Did you spend money to own the platform hardware?

But making a business around repairing a product or reverse engineering software of a product sounds like stealing from the company. (My opinion)

Stealing means to take a physical good for oneself, removing that good from proper owner. That isn’t what’s happening. Infringing on intellectual property isn’t even happening. Disappointing rent-seeking control freaks is what is happening.

Have you ever thought that the product might not be profitable if you allow other people to modify the companies product?

Sounds like a business model problem. Why can’t i hang new drywall or change parts in my car myself, or have someone else do it?

So if the government mandates right to repair; some product may not be produced.

Business model problem. More of an ego problem, really.

*Also a right to repair mandate might create intentionally disposable or unfixable products.

Some smart engineer puts an undefeatable pressure or air switch inside the product which bricks it if it is opened. Or circuit boards that degrade when exposed to air or humidity. Or just a load of epoxy inside.*

Are you asserting that this is a novel idea, and they don’t do this already, lol?

The market will decide.

The market is currently discussing just this. How coincidental.

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ladyattis (profile) says:

Right to Repair is part of property rights

As I’ve tagged my comment’s subject line, to me the right to repair is also part of property rights. And my reasoning on this is that if you wholly own a thing then repairing, modifying, disposing, etc are all part of the package deal. The idea that you don’t own your car, tractor, or phone is nonsensical to me and I think to most folks who are lawyers will probably agree inasmuch as how ownership both in the common meaning and the legal meaning isn’t too different. To not extend these rights to things which people in the common meaning of property ownership buy is basically another kind of theft but through technicalities. True, you don’t own the software on your smart phone but the software is essential to make it function. And it’s equally true that I don’t own the firmware on my car’s ignition system but again it’s necessary for its function. So this is why right to repair laws to me seem absolutely necessary to avoid these silly technicalities or gotchas by greedy slothful firms who demand a reliable return on investment where none legally is guaranteed by any law in the US or really under any government in the world.

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