New York Legislators Seeking A 'Right To Repair' Law For Electronic Devices

from the the-end-of-fixed-fixes? dept

Well, this is (potentially) good news. New York is going forward with the first "right to repair" bill in the nation, as pointed out on Twitter by Amanda Levendowski. The bill will allow constituents to bypass manufacturer-authorized dealers/repair centers and use smaller (and cheaper) repair outlets. Or, if neither seems within the price range, they're more than welcome to perform these repairs -- using previously-hidden manufacturer specs and instructions -- themselves.

Perhaps the best thing about the bill (if it passes with as few loopholes as possible) is that it will eliminate the sort of ridiculousness that has been the end result of this tight grip on repair "permission." Like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raiding repair shops for using aftermarket products. Or teens being sued by multi-billion dollar companies for doing the same. Or local governments requiring unrelated licenses to be obtained before a person can start offering repairs.

Here's what's being authorized before the exceptions kick in. (ALL CAPS in the original.)
MANUFACTURERS OF DIGITAL ELECTRONIC PARTS AND MACHINES SOLD OR USED IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK SHALL:

I. MAKE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE BY INDEPENDENT REPAIR FACILITIES OR OTHER OWNERS OF PRODUCTS MANUFACTURED BY SUCH MANUFACTURER DIAGNOSTIC AND REPAIR INFORMATION, INCLUDING REPAIR TECHNICAL UPDATES, UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS TO FIRMWARE, AND RELATED DOCUMENTATION, IN THE SAME MANNER SUCH MANUFACTURER MAKES AVAILABLE TO ITS AUTHORIZED REPAIR CHANNEL. EACH MANUFACTURER SHALL PROVIDE ACCESS TO SUCH MANUFACTURER'S DIAGNOSTIC AND REPAIR INFORMATION SYSTEM FOR PURCHASE BY OWNERS AND INDEPENDENT REPAIR FACILITIES UPON FAIR AND REASONABLE TERMS; AND

II. MAKE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE BY THE PRODUCT OWNER, OR THE AUTHORIZED AGENT OF THE OWNER, SUCH SERVICE PARTS, INCLUSIVE OF ANY UPDATES TO THE FIRMWARE OF THE PARTS, FOR PURCHASE UPON FAIR AND REASONABLE TERMS…

EACH MANUFACTURER OF DIGITAL ELECTRONIC PRODUCTS SOLD OR USED IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK SHALL MAKE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE BY OWNERS AND INDEPENDENT REPAIR FACILITIES ALL DIAGNOSTIC REPAIR TOOLS INCORPORATING THE SAME DIAGNOSTIC, REPAIR AND REMOTE COMMUNICATIONS CAPABILITIES THAT SUCH MANUFACTURER MAKES AVAILABLE TO ITS OWN REPAIR OR ENGINEERING STAFF OR ANY AUTHORIZED REPAIR CHANNELS. EACH MANUFACTURER SHALL OFFER SUCH TOOLS FOR SALE TO OWNERS AND TO INDEPENDENT REPAIR FACILITIES UPON FAIR AND REASONABLE TERMS.
That's the good part. But there are potential loopholes in the bill already, including a major exception for one of the most tightlipped industries: auto manufacturers.
NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL APPLY TO MOTOR VEHICLE MANUFACTURERS OR MOTOR VEHICLE DEALERS AS DEFINED IN THIS SECTION.
If any industry needs to be covered under a "right to repair," it's the auto industry, which has continually abused intellectual property laws to keep the general public from diagnosing their own vehicles in order to perform their own repairs.

There's other potential bad news in there as well.
NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO REQUIRE A MANUFACTURER TO DIVULGE A TRADE SECRET.
Yeah. Guess what's going to start being declared "trade secrets?" Probably almost everything the bill orders manufacturers to make available to the public. Even if this bill passes, there's going to be a ton of litigation over what does and does not define a "trade secret." In the meantime, the public will be no better off than they were before the bill's passage.

And there's this exception, which would seem to pick up whatever slack "trade secrets" can't.
NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO REQUIRE MANUFACTURERS OR AUTHORIZED REPAIR PROVIDERS TO PROVIDE AN OWNER OR INDEPENDENT REPAIR PROVIDER ACCESS TO NON-DIAGNOSTIC AND REPAIR INFORMATION PROVIDED BY A MANUFACTURER TO AN AUTHORIZED REPAIR PROVIDER PURSUANT TO THE TERMS OF AN AUTHORIZING AGREEMENT.
"Non-diagnostic" could become the new "diagnostic." And the use of the word "and" seems to make "repair information" off-limits if any agreements are already in place with authorized dealers and repair shops.

There's also a good chance the bill's "fair and reasonable terms" will be construed as permission to price independent repair shops and the general public out of the market. Legislators obviously can't set base prices (or even determine a fair market price -- that information is kept under wraps as well), so the suggestion of a "fair" price is open to advantageous interpretation. There's an attempt to set some limits in the bill's definitions, with the most significant one being "THE ABILITY OF AFTERMARKET TECHNICIANS OR SHOPS TO AFFORD THE INFORMATION," but that, again, is going to generate a lot of friction (possibly of the litigious variety) when manfacturers and the rest of the public repeatedly fail to agree on the definition of "affordable."

Still, it's more than most governments are willing to attempt. Massachusetts passed one in 2013 -- one that targeted auto manufacturers and dealers. It met with the usual resistance from the auto industry (both ends) but gathered 86% of the public's votes, clearly signaling unhappiness with the automakers' closed systems. A federal "right to repair" law has been mooted several times, but has never gained significant traction.

If this bill is going to succeed as a law, legislators need to do some loophole stitching pre-passage, and regulators will need to keep a very close eye on reticent manufacturers after it becomes law.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 12:54pm

    Need 'Right to Repair' to avoid being killed by

    auto software bugs & hacks.

    Dan Geer suggests either 'strict liability' or 'open source' for embedded SW.

    If manufacturers want to keep proprietary, then they can suffer endless lawsuits due to negligence on SW vulnerabilities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 26 Mar 2015 @ 12:58pm

    NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO REQUIRE A MANUFACTURER TO DIVULGE A TRADE SECRET.

    That's probably the most disappointing part of this whole thing. Of all of the different concepts covered under the umbrella term of "intellectual property," trade secrets are the one with the least legitimacy, since you can't have less than zero.

    Trade secrets are actively harmful to civilization. They're the problem that patents were created to fix, and legislators who don't understand this are the stuff of cautionary tales and aphorisms; the one about those who don't understand history being doomed to repeat it comes to mind!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DRTRLady (profile), 28 Mar 2015 @ 10:05am

      Re: Trade Secrets

      Mason, trade secrets have a specific definition in law that limits what manufacturers can actually claim as a secret. Service documentation, schematics, and other repair information does not fit the definition of a trade secret, so it will be specifically available under this Bill.

      Intellectual Property (IP) claims are the elephant in the room, but States cannot change copyright law, which is federal. States can protect consumers from unfair and deceptive trade practices, which is why the Consumer Protection Committee(s) will be involved.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 26 Mar 2015 @ 1:30pm

    Ah, the good old times

    The good old times where the circuit diagrams were glued into an electronic device or even included in a satchel, including calibration instructions, oscilloscope renditions and whatnot.

    A message of pride and support from engineer to engineer, and a "live long and prosper" to the device itself.

    We've come a long way. Downhill.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 26 Mar 2015 @ 1:48pm

      Re: Ah, the good old times

      God, how I miss those. As a kid, my first experience learning electronics and how to read schematics came from those diagrams and destroying the devices they went with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 26 Mar 2015 @ 1:31pm

    And for those who lived in those times...

    this is the way it used to be - without any law being required... Sams PhotoFacts sold "repair manuals" for every radio, TV, and other electronic device - to repair shops that used to be more prevalent than coffee shops today. Even to home "hobbyist" electronics guys. We'd crack open the TV, pull the tubes, wander down to Allied or Radio Shack or Heath, test the tubes, buy the replacement parts, pop 'em in, and have a repaired set. And we even built our own TVs from kits...IIRC, you could get an Associates Degree in Electronics by building one of the big Heathkit TVs.

    But the downside (from a certain point of view) - people repaired and kept equipment for many years - they didn't buy new every time a new model came out, so that had to be stopped. And the manufacturers got away with stopping it.

    And I doubt this law will be able to fix it (pun intended)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 2:24pm

    Another closed system is the HVAC racket. If you want to buy replacement parts or service manuals for your air conditioning unit, for instance, your local contractor supply store (the only place you'll find that sort of thing) won't sell to you unless you show them a contractor's license or certificate. It's been good to see that decades-old private club that has always hated do-it-yourselfers finally start to open up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 2:28pm

    FYI: "ALL CAPS in the original"

    For those who don't know: legislatures typically use ALL CAPS to designate the language they are proposing to add in their bills. Language that already exists in law or regulation is written normally, and language proposed to be deleted will either have parentheses around it or have strike-through it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jerith (profile), 26 Mar 2015 @ 3:28pm

    The pry bar and socket wrench still can do some services...

    Maybe tldr here...
    As a automotive dealer employee I see both sides of the issue. Blah blah about the trade secrets stuff. Those are hacked by aftermarket and other automotive builder spy all the time anyways. Honda versus Nissan. Dodge and Ford. That sort of thing. Those trade secrets where if one executes a better sliding door than the other, billions are to be made. The bill would authorize full-on spying between major vehicle makers. I'm not standing up for that though. That's part of the business Mr Overpaid CEO.

    Another issue for the shady tree mechanic is the use of 'special tools' needed to service certain parts of a vehicle. Those tools may only be needed on one car for one year only. Those rear wipers change yearly it seems.

    Okay, I work at a Chrysler dealership. A small family owned dealership. We have sold a few Vipers in the past, but not for 8 years. When we did order and sell one Chrysler forced us to buy $10,000 worth of special tools. We did but then sold the tools to another dealership. Special right angle lube nipples or one off special torque wrenches. It sucks for the dealer too.

    This is where the issue is. The shady tree guy isn't allowed to buy those tools currently. The tools can change yearly. Diagnostic tools change and update all the time. Faster communications. Or direct from Chrysler's server from internet to wireless to the car for instant diagnosis.

    Some of the advancements have been huge fail experiments too. Dealership mechanics rage at the new tools all the time. Profanity galore.

    In the end, if they sell the part, it is quasi-permission for you to use it. So change that oil and air filter on your own time table. Not just the dealership 8 to 6. Just don't under or over tighten whatever you work on then expect the dealer to fix the mistake for free.

    whoa... this would be tldr for me too. :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2015 @ 4:41am

    I don't really understand what this is about, so I'm assuming it's some crazy American law that we don't have in Australia (yet).

    No choice of where to repair your goods? After-market parts illegal? Insanity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DRTRLady (profile), 28 Mar 2015 @ 10:15am

    Auto Right to Repair

    Tim is a bit behind on the auto industry. The industry came to an agreement in January of 2014 with the aftermarket industry to provide service documentation, firmware including all updates, diagnostics and specialty tools on a fair and reasonable basis.

    Their agreement affirms that buyers do have a right to repair their purchases with an independent technician, or engage in self-repair. The implementation date for auto right to repair is model year 2018 - only because there is a mandate for a specific common diagnostic harness to be installed.

    The exemption for motor vehicles in the NY bills is an acknowledgement of that agreement, so that legislators will be more confident they should vote to allow other products can be repaired under the same framework.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    intrepi, 28 Mar 2015 @ 11:38pm

    My opinion on embedded software or firmware

    I don't know if its embedded software or firmware of if its being locked out of the web Serving Configuration that is needed to configure Modems, boxes or whatever else. The way I see it is simple. If I buy a modem, a box or piece of hardware and there is firmware or software on it that prevents configuring or locks the hardware up so it can't be used by the buyer, then its an infringement on the property that is owned by me. I should be able to go to Telus or whomever has the rights to the software or firmware and say, its your firmware or software and you're entitled to it so remove it from my property before I start charging you a rental fee for parking your software on my box. If Telus or the rest don't want to provide this type of service then they have to stop selling their hardware and provide it via a lease or rental agreement. Fair is fair but then corporate greed is what it is, anything but fair. Somebody with more money than me should haul Telus and the others into court and force them to remove their crapware from any privately owned device. That's my opinion for whatever its worth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DRTRLady (profile), 29 Mar 2015 @ 7:12am

      Re: My opinion on embedded software or firmware

      You nailed it. Firmware is the logical dividing line between the things you own outright, and licenses. When manufacturers treat firmware as a license, they continue to own the property - which isn't what you bargained for when you purchased the product. In order for you to fully own your tech products the firmware must be clearly entitled to the SN, much as the firmware for ABS Brakes is entitled to the VIN.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Walter, 4 May 2015 @ 4:16am

    potentially good news? This news are awesome! all Americans need sthis law, why such a long time we must wait?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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