What is the Right to Repair and why is it important?

If you’re no stranger to technology then you, like many others, have probably found yourself in a situation where a vital piece of electronic equipment has broken, often at the worst possible moment. Whether this be a shattered phone screen, or a laptop that suddenly won’t keep its battery life, the decision to repair a device, rather than replace it completely, is one that many of us would prefer to do. So how does the right to repair protect this idea? Read on to find out.

What is the Right to Repair?

The idea behind the Right to Repair is that if a consumer has bought an electronic device then they should be able to repair it themselves, or take it to a technician of their choice. 

While this is not a new concept when it comes to electronic goods like old cars and appliances, many people believe that modern technology, especially those objects that contain a computer chip, are rarely repairable in the same manner. This is largely due to the fact that consumers don’t have access to the parts or information they would need to repair their devices. Some electronic objects may even be impossible to open up and fix without destroying other crucial hardware in the process (a good example are wireless earbuds). 

Why is the Right to Repair important?

Not only does the Right toRrepair place consumers at the heart of decisions regarding their electronics, it also has important ramifications for electronic waste. This is because even if we can recycle our electronics, if they are still usable it is actually much better for the environment if we repair them instead. 

Why is legislation needed?

Although some companies have made repair parts, tools, and documentation available for their customers so that they can easily replace parts of their devices that don’t work, many other enterprises have not. After years of complaints, in 2019, Apple, for example, finally opened up its iPhone parts and tools to third party repair shops – meaning consumers didn’t have to go to the genius bar to get their phones fixed. However, the company continues to make computers that are easily repairable after purchase. You can view a full list of computers with their respective repairability scores here.

And Apple is not alone. Making the parts needed for repair incredibly expensive also makes consumers think they might as well buy a new phone, rather than repair the one they have. After all, if you’re paying almost the same price for a repair as a new phone, why would you keep an older model that’s broken on you before?

Legislation would establish rules that promote repairability throughout industries that use electronics and cut back on the amount of energy needed to create new devices. As of 2021, the UK has introduced right to repair rules that legally require manufacturers to make spare parts for electrical appliances and the European Commission has announced similar rules will soon be implemented in Europe for electrical appliances, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. 

In the US, only one state has passed legislation, Massachusetts in 2012. This also solely concerns car repairs for cars built after 2015. However, in New York, the Fair Repair Act, which requires manufacturers to make diagnostic and repair information of any electric product available, passed the state’s senate and is set to be voted on in January 2022. 

The case against the Right to Repair

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many device manufacturers are against implementing Right to Repair legislation. They argue that they should be able to keep their intellectual property confidential, that opening up device information would potentially expose their consumers to more cybersecurity risks, and that only the manufacturer can ensure devices are repaired to a certified safety standard for their consumers. Nonetheless, given that more people repairing devices would decrease these companies profits, the motives behind their opposition are in fact fourfold.

It is also worth noting that in May 2021 the Federal Trade Commission in the US published a report that looked into examples against the right to repair and found that most manufacturers’ statements about safety and security being impacted by the right to repair were flawed. 

Update: In November 2021, Apple announced it would introduce a self-service repair scheme so that customers who are comfortable can repair their own devices. From early 2022, customers in the US will be able to purchase parts and tools to repair their battery, screen, or iPhone camera.

Got any questions or other technology queries? Please tweet us at @techtroublesho1

If you’re interested in how else we can reduce electronic waste check out our previous post ‘Buying a refurbished smartphone: what you should know

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