Editor’s note: this blog post was originally posted on April 3, 2017. It has been updated with additional information and content.
As a journalist, I truly appreciate the “Right to Repair” debate. There are two sides to the story and both have strong, legitimate arguments. If you haven’t heard of it, put simply, owners feel they should be allowed to fix their equipment, and manufacturers don’t want to release company secrets.
For example, if a warning buzzer goes off on a dozer for a hydraulic function that’s never used by the owner…should the owner be allowed to shut down the alarm by going through lines of code in the onboard computer?
If the owner has to wait for service or parts or both, he or she is losing money because that machine is down and not being productive during that waiting period.
On the other hand, the manufacturer is reluctant to give away its computer codes and/or information on how to fix the dozer.
Bills have been introduced in eleven state legislatures that seek access to service information, schematics, and repair manuals; fair market access to diagnostics and tools; spare parts for a fair price; and critical updates. The states of New York, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Iowa are considering the legislation. A lobbying group called repair.org is trying to make sure the bills are made into law.
Repair.org says it’s fighting for property rights.
- Many manufacturers make it impossible—whether inadvertently or intentionally—for consumers or independent repair technicians to fix their products, leaving consumers with few other options than to buy new.
- Modern repairs involve electronics: any product that can have embedded electronics, will eventually have embedded electronics. Repairing those electronics requires information, parts, firmware access, and tooling specifications from the product designers.
- The knowledge and tools to repair and refurbish products should be distributed as widely and freely as the products themselves. In contrast to centralized manufacturing, reuse must be broadly distributed to achieve economies of scale.
- Creating an economy around extending the lifespan of manufactured goods will create jobs and benefit the environment.
- Products should be designed to have their lifespan extended by regular maintenance and repair.
The legislation introduced in Kansas is called HB 2122.
John Deere released a statement expressing its opposition to the bill. That embedded software code is copyright-protected, and access is governed by US copyright law.
Deere supports the retention of these protections to prevent intended or unintended alterations of embedded software that would result in:
- the unsafe operation of its products
- disruption of machine capabilities and performance
- changes to emissions controls
- voiding of warranties
- lack of transparency to changes on resale, and
- a less-than-optimal customer experience
Like I said, the arguments are solid on both sides.
The debate, as well as all of the proposed legislation, can also be applied to cell phones and “do-it-yourselfers” trying to perform their own repairs. Apple is even getting involved in lobbying on the same side as John Deere. And that’s what brings me to the part that “may not be appropriate for all readers” (and I stress “may”).
It’s a video of a failed cell phone repair, but it comes with a happy ending. Enjoy…and let me know where you stand on the Right to Repair debate.