Restoring our right to repair what we own is being considered in the US House of Representatives right now. Today, Representatives Mondaire Jones of New York (D) and Victoria Spartz of Indiana (R) introduced the Freedom to Repair Act. The bill would permanently fix an important aspect of copyright law, making almost all electronic repairs legal by default.
Copyright law shouldn’t prevent repair, but the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 made it illegal to circumvent technological protection measures for any purpose, repair included. More and more products have technological protection measures, to the point where fixing your Xbox or Keurig has become illegal. Every three years, we fight to get the Copyright Office to grant specific repair exemptions to the DMCA. We’ve had some success, but the limited exemptions we’ve received don’t allow people to share the tools or software necessary for these repairs.
The Jones-Spartz bill would simplify all of this. It would clarify that working around digital locks when fixing things isn’t a copyright violation. Making tools and software for those repairs would become legal. All products with embedded electronics are included, with the exception of medical devices. (We’re not thrilled about this exception.)
Nathan Proctor with US PIRG weighed in, “Manufacturers have gone too far by locking repair functions. Congress never intended to outlaw repair. It’s no surprise that fixing this oversight is bipartisan. It’s common sense.”
Eschewing unnecessary lock-outs also supports technology education, too, as cybersecurity expert Tarah Wheeler pointed out at a right to repair hearing in Washington recently. When “manufacturers restrict the right to poke around in their devices,” she said, it damages the opportunity for “curious minds to explore” and makes it harder for her, as an employer, to find employees with knowledge and skill.
Momentum for Right to Repair is growing. Yesterday, Senator Tester (D) introduced a Federal agriculture equipment right to repair bill. And state bills have moved out of key committees in Washington and Massachusetts this week.
Making more devices repairable will empower recyclers and refurbishers to reduce e-waste by extending the useful life of these products.
“We shouldn’t have to beg permission from the Copyright Office every three years for the right to fix our stuff. Repair isn’t piracy and it’s not how copyrights are infringed. This bill helps make repair practical again,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. “When passed, this reform will improve choice in repair markets, which means better service at lower costs for consumers.”
Let your congressional representatives know that you support the bipartisan Freedom to Repair Act and the legal right to repair.
This sort of abuse of the copywrite/patent system has been going on for a long time. Back in the 70s, my wife owned a quick printing business that used a $10,000 Itek camera to make printing plates. The camera had a chemical bath for processing the plates that had to held within a couple of degrees of 90 F. The “thermostat” consisted of a 2’ rod with a microswitch facing the end. The rod would open and close the microswitch. The chemical vapors would periodically corrode the switch and it would stop working. The switch was a common one the cost about $5 at the time. Itek had the switch manufactured change the position of the mounting holes and “patented” the “new switch” so only they could purchase them. Itek wouldn’t sell us the switch. They wanted their tech to replace the whole assembly and charge us several hundred dollars for the repair. I solved the problem with a couple of square inches of aluminum and made a braket to attach the $5 standard microswitch.
Lew Murray - Reply