Congress To Consider National Right To Repair Law For First Time

from the baby-steps dept

About five years ago, frustration at John Deere's draconian tractor DRM culminated in a grassroots "right to repair" movement. 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.

Since then, the right to repair movement has expanded dramatically, with a heavy focus on companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony and their attempts to monopolize repair, driving up consumer costs, and resulting in greater waste.

It has also extended into the medical arena, where device manufacturers enjoy a monopoly on tools, documentation, and replacement parts, making it a nightmare to get many pieces of medical equipment repaired. That has, unsurprisingly, become even more of a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic due to mass hospitalizations and resource constraints, with medical professionals being forced to use grey market parts or DIY parts just to get ventilators to work.

Hoping to give the movement a shot of adrenaline, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Yvette D. Clark have introduced the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020 (pdf), which would exempt medical equipment owners and "servicers" from liability for copying service materials or breaking DRM if it was done so to improve COVID-19 aid. The legislation also pre-empts any agreements between hospitals and equipment manufacturers preventing hospital employees from working on their own equipment, something that's also become more of a problem during the pandemic.

From a Wyden statement:

"There is no excuse for leaving hospitals and patients stranded without necessary equipment during the most widespread pandemic to hit the U.S. in 100 years,” Wyden said. “It is just common sense to say that qualified technicians should be allowed to make emergency repairs or do preventative maintenance, and not have their hands tied by overly restrictive contracts and copyright laws, until this crisis is over."

While numerous states have attempted to pass right to repair legislation, none have succeeded so far. In large part because companies like Apple have lobbied extensively to thwart them, (falsely) claiming that letting customers and independent repair merchants fix devices (usually for far less money) would be a privacy and security nightmare. In Nebraska, Apple even tried to claim that such legislation would turn the state into a mecca for hackers (sounds pretty cool to me, but what do I know). Apple has also spent years bullying a small repair shop in Norway because he used refurbished Apple parts to fix devices.

This is the first time such legislation will be proposed on the federal level. As such, likely seeing it as a gateway to broader legislation, companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and John Deere will now likely do their best to (quietly) kill it, despite the positive impact it could have during a pandemic.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: medical equipment, ownership, right to repair, ron wyden, yvette clark


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:22am

    Magnuson Moss anyone?

    So, we have Mag-Moss from 1975 that gives the 'right to repair' to 3rd parties... How does this not already apply?!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:46am

      Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

      How does this not already apply?

      Copyright, which has this magical property that it prevents people owning what they thought they had bought.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:53am

      Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

      The DMCA's anti-circumvention clause means that (with a small and periodically-changing list of exceptions) breaking DRM is illegal, even if you do it in order to do something that is legal.

      It's basically an end-run around fair use. Sure, it's legal to repair your own device -- it's just not legal to break DRM in order to do it. Sure, it's legal to make a backup copy of software you bought -- it's just not legal to break DRM in order to do it. And so on.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 2:31pm

        Re: Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

        A question I've always had: DMCA doesn't make it illegal to possess software with no DRM, right? It just makes the tools to strip it and the act of doing so illegal.

        So if this part is done somewhere the DMCA doesn't apply, things fall back to copyright violation on import, right?

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 3:49am

          Re: Re: Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

          "So if this part is done somewhere the DMCA doesn't apply, things fall back to copyright violation on import, right?"

          There are reasons as to why the most lobbied-for provisions in international trade treaties are related to copyright and IP in general.

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

    • icon
      Koby (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 7:08am

      Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

      The main problem is DRM, and although a 3rd party repair could be attempted, the manufacturer effectively prevents it through a code scheme. Hardware will deliberately stop working until the DRM protected program is given the right code that tells it that a proper repair has been completed. And the manufacturer isn't going to give you that code.

      So unless the 3rd party repair can crack the DRM and then re-program the components to work without a "repair completed" code, 3rd party repair is prevented. This is mostly what the Right To Repair advocates want: equipment that is not protected by DRM such that 3rd parties can access the onboard diagnostics so that repair is easier, and then provide it the "repair completed" code such that the equipment will begin working again.

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

    • icon
      united9198 (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:44am

      Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

      You are correct, but the battle has changed. You are free to fix your stuff all you want, but the manufacturers still control access to the data that is need to do the repair. If you were able to obtain the necessary access to the data, you would be able to do your own repair, but manufacturers are encrypting the info or otherwise preventing you from getting it under the guise of data security, personal privacy, or any other false pretense that they can use to keep competition away.

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

    • icon
      Ben S (profile), 9 Aug 2020 @ 12:56am

      Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

      It doesn't. Previously, the free market gave you the right to repair anywhere you wanted, including with third parties. No laws were needed. The Magnuson Moss Act was a set of disclosure laws associated with warrantees, that if a manufacturer warrantied something, they had to disclose certain details on the warranty and how it would work. Things such as what specifically was warrantied, duration, limitations on the warranty, and things like that.

      What you're likely thinking of is the "tie-in clause", which states that a manufacturer can not tie the warranty to repairs by certain parties or with certain parts.

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

      • icon
        Ben S (profile), 9 Aug 2020 @ 1:03am

        Re: Re: Magnuson Moss anyone?

        Did some searching to get the exact text, if you're curious.
        §2302
        (c) Prohibition on conditions for written or implied warranty; waiver by Commission. No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade, or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection may be waived by the Commission if–

        (1) the warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and (2) the Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest. The Commission shall identify in the Federal Register, and permit public comment on, all applications for waiver of the prohibition of this subsection, and shall publish in the Federal Register its disposition of any such application, including the reasons therefor.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:51am

    I think, the Magnison Morrison act only says that a manufacturer can't deny you the warranty if you have repaired an item yourself, (unless they can prove that you caused damage) not that you actually have the right to repair it. A fine distinction, sure, but there is a difference and a critical one.

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

    • icon
      Ben S (profile), 9 Aug 2020 @ 1:26am

      Re:

      You're close, but the act doesn't actually state anything about being able to void a warranty based on proving a third party caused the damage or defect. Of course, it doesn't really need to. If you make something, and sell it with a warranty, then work by a third party breaks the device and you can prove it, then you've also proven there was no manufacturer's defect, and as a result, the warranty wouldn't apply anyway.

      The point when a manufacturer can get a warranty to require specific parts or parties for repair is when they can prove that other parts or parties doing the work would cause the product or service to not function properly and that such a requirement would serve the public interest. I quoted the relevant law above, if you want to see the exact wording.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:56am

    With so many people at home being bored out of their minds, it seems like this is an appropriate time for a law that CLEARLY allows people to tinker with what they own. There are small business opportunities waiting for enterprising minds.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 7:17am

    Sorry but I am not going to hold my breath for this.
    It sounds nice & oh ventilators we needed but couldn't fix blah blah blah...
    Its a short term problem that will be abandoned after a couple donations.

    They can't be bothered to punish the insulin makers who hold people's lives hostage, do you think a couple vent makers are scared?

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

    • icon
      Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 8:13am

      Re:

      Nobody's asking you to hold your breath. But if we don't try, nothing will never be solved.

      Please do not write your congressman. We don't want him discouraged.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:14am

      Re:

      Its a short term problem that will be abandoned after a couple donations.

      You know, if you'd get over this "all politicians are the same" hard-on you've got and learn to start distinguishing between different people in Congress, you might learn something about this Wyden fellow. Techdirt's mentioned him before once or twice.

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

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 10:35am

        Re: Re:

        Members can have great ideas, but its getting the rest of them to support it where it falls apart.

        We see things suggested that are then just shoveled to the side & the publics attention span forgets about it.

        We still today have people dying b/c it was insulin or rent, and other than a photo op of them buying cheap insulin (that couldn't meet the needs of most diabetics) nothing has changed.

        150k+ people are dead & they still can't do anything for us without making sure they & their donors get something out of it.
        While it sounds nice history as a guide says nothing will come of this & people will forget it was ever mentioned.

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

  • icon
    Carlie Coats (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:30am

    DMCA and Constitution

    As a matter of logic, I still don't see how the DMCA passes Constitutional muster: The Constitutional requirement is "for a limited time", and if those "technological measures" do not disable themselves after a limited time, then they are Constitutionally illegal.

    And the legislators who enacted this have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and so are oathbreakers.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 10:14am

      Re: DMCA and Constitution

      Ah, but look at the actual name for the DMCA. It's the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Key word being Millennium, which is a "limited amount of time." If something made today is still being protected by the DMCA a thousand years from now, then we might start looking at possible charges of oath breaking.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 4:09pm

      Re: DMCA and Constitution

      As a matter of logic, I still don't see how the DMCA passes Constitutional muster: The Constitutional requirement is "for a limited time"

      The argument was tried in Eldred v. Ashcroft, and didn't convince SCOTUS.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:26pm

        Re: Re: DMCA and Constitution

        didn't convince SCOTUS

        .....over the massive outcry of companies screaming of lost profits.

        Any sane person would read "for a limited time" to mean within a life expectancy. (Otherwise for all intensive purposes the duration is indefinite to anyone alive at the time of creation.) That didn't stop the current 2+ life expectancy limits from being upheld though.

        Remember who they serve: It isn't you.

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

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 10:36am

      Re: DMCA and Constitution

      You're partially right, but for the wrong reasons.
      The DMCA cannot pass Constitutional scrutiny because it doesn't allow for fair use. Any Copyright law that does not allow for fair use is absolutely unconstitutional. The real problem is that no one has been willing to fight that issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

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

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:42am

    Not New

    Right To Repair has been around a lot longer than 5 years. Nearly 20 years ago, independent auto repair fought this battle and won. Independent repair shops maintained their right to fix their customer's vehicles. Unfortunately, no one had the ability to foresee the changes in how data is captured, transmitted, and stored by the vehicle manufacturers. We are back at it right now and trying to get a law passed in Massachusetts. It is on the ballot this fall. Given the penchant of manufacturers to want a monopoly, this battle will never truly be won, but it needs to be fought.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:30pm

      Re: Not New

      this battle will never truly be won

      Sure it can be. Just remove the anti-circumvention clause in the DMCA. No legal teeth will make any expenditure on DRM implementation a net loss, and companies will abandon the concept.

      DRM only serves to restrict the rights of the law abiding citizen. The people that rightsholders claim to stop using it, laugh in everyone's faces along with the rightsholders.

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

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 8:30am

        Re: Re: Not New

        Just remove the anti-circumvention clause in the DMCA.

        And the manufacturers will just give up and the issue will go away forever? Or you think maybe they'll find some other to screw customers, and the battle will have to be fought again?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 10:01am

    as with all of this type of thing and, of course, everything to do with copyright, it's down to nothing other than greed, pure, unadulterated greed, with a hearty helping of control added in! what seems to be ommitted is that whoever is doing the repair screws up, either they or the device owner will buy a new, more recent device so the manufacturers are never going to truly lose out anyway. the biggest issue, as usual is that because this type of lobbying (substitute BULLYING!) goes on in the USA and as always the USA thinks it runs the world and has the right to dictate to every other nation on the Planet what can be done, by ahom, to what but refuses point blank to accept the same conditions itself from others, totally kicks off when it is attempted! goose and gander are words that then come to mind!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 10:20am

    frustration at John Deere's draconian tractor DRM culminated in a grassroots "right to repair" movement

    Grassroots or wheatroots?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 11:29am

    Funny how, just preceding an election, politicians try to act like they are writing legislation that could benefit the people - as opposed to what they do during the rest of their term.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 4:20pm

    would exempt medical equipment owners and "servicers" from liability for copying service materials or breaking DRM if it was done so to improve COVID-19 aid.

    Such limited exemptions raise an obvious problem: where are these "servicers" going to come from, and where will they get their software? We can't expect people to appear from nowhere, solve our COVID problems, and then disappear without having any larger effect on copyright.

    It's like with DVDs. There have been occasional DMCA exceptions granted to bypass that DRM, but everyone doing that relied on software that had been previously declared illegal under US law. If nobody had broken the law, it's doubtful that anyone later wanting to use 10 seconds of a DVD in a documentary would've found anyone to reverse-engineer the entire DRM system just for that.

    Some medical device is going to use general-purpose software, like maybe an operating system that doesn't allow unsigned software. Then what? We'll need people who understand how it works, how to break it. Do we get a bunch of security researchers to append "to fight COVID" to the titles of their papers, and hope that'll keep them out of prison even though people could use it for anything else? If all we get are these tiny loopholes, most investigations will occur underground, which means a lot of people who could help won't.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 5:47pm

    Tech.

    Love tghe idea that in the EU, you cant CR, programming. It was until recently.(think they changed it)
    And in the USA you could CR a piece of Code, HW or SW, so that no one could get/hold/change/augment...or anything to it.
    Even that little box(s) in your car that control your engine/transmission and/or the lighting/security/other..
    ITS KINDA stupid that you are paying for about $50 MAX of hardware to control your car, and to replace it costs $200-500.
    At one point they wanted to have a Emergency bypass in the car incase they REALLY needed to MOVE the car.(wont happen)

    I think your phone has Over 40 CR products inside, and it the majority of the cost, which adds up to about $100-150 worth of electronics.
    What is inside a Apple phone? Thats worth More than an adroid? The OS? which gets changed and augmented by Apple, and if it Screws up, you have lost everything. They have done it before with MP3 players..
    Im from the old days when a CMOS/BIOS chip that controls your computer checks at startup, was SOCKETED..and could be changed IF it really failed.
    There are a few repair persons on YT, that have shown the problems with TRYING to fight the corps, even when they show up to give information. The corps are there. and Lying Badly.

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

  • icon
    apsara ofindia (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:04am

    Shayari

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

  • icon
    apsara ofindia (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 3:44am

    apsara ofindia

    Searching for beautiful, hot and sexy babes for love making in Delhi? Welcome to our high class service.
    https://www.apsaraofindia.com/panipat-girls-escorts-service.html

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

  • icon
    scarlet emilye (profile), 16 Sep 2020 @ 11:15pm

    Million Money Clone Script- Coinjoker

    Million Money Clone Script is a smart contract based MLM Script, built on blockchain technology that helps you to build a decentralized, trustworthy blockchain MLM business like million money.

    https://www.cryptoexchangescript.com/million-money-mlm-clone-script

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

  • icon
    scarlet emilye (profile), 16 Sep 2020 @ 11:24pm

    Coinjoker - A dedicated and Professional Tron Smart Contract development team, builds tron smart contract MLM platform accurately with blockchain technology more transparent, scalable, accessible, adaptable, and down to earth cost for every individual, enterprise and startup.

    Build your smart contract based MLM platform from us and know how our framework could transform your operations and makes it more effective. Our experienced developers, builds your MLM business company gets the best results and implements this tron smart contract solution in an perfect manner. We assist you to build MLM business at minimum expense and equip the platform with the most exploring business modules.

    https://www.cryptoexchangescript.com/tron-trx-smart-contract-mlm-software-development

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt

Tech & COVID is a new project by
Techdirt, with sponsorship from

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.