This year could have been a big year for the right to repair – and it could be.
Legislators in 20 states have introduced bills that would force manufacturers to share their manuals and diagnostic tools with the owners of the electronics. In the event of adoption, these laws would mean that DIY enthusiasts and independent repairers could receive the same information that official repair partners do to properly replace worn-out cell phone batteries, faulty optical drives, and all of these other curable devices, either compelling an authorized headache Visit a repair shop or throw the device into the scrap heap.
NurPhoto / Gerry
For a while there was a good dynamic behind this movement. But then COVID-19 happened. The pandemic has affected the economy and many state houses have withdrawn their right to repair efforts to focus on the most pressing needs. However, since the pandemic has also taken millions of people around the world from jobs and income security, there is currently an increased need (and interest in) DIY repairs.
Given an uncertain financial future and a lot of free time, many people choose to repair old electronics themselves instead of spending money on new equipment or expensive professional repair services. Sales on DIY repair kit website iFixit is more than five times higher than normal, according to co-founder Kyle Wiens. In particular, the numbers on the left joystick replacement package for the Nintendo Switch are "through the roof," he says.
Given the anemic condition of most people's wallets, this would now be an excellent time to enact the Right to Repair (RTR) laws.
Vienna's struggle for technical rehab began seriously almost 10 years ago when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) restricted the unlocking of phones. "Suddenly, a night agency decision to unlock your phone and move it from AT&T to T-Mobile became illegal," Wiens explains. "And that was ridiculous."
The problematic section of the DCMA was originally intended to stop DVD piracy, but the text did a lot of collateral damage. Among many other issues, the rule gives companies the ability to void a product warranty if they try to fix it.
RTR dusting is about more than replacing a fried joystick or a broken cell phone glass. The DCMA changes the importance of product ownership, says Vienna. Since the DCMA protects all copyrighted software products that are integrated into the operating systems of tablets, toasters and almost all electrical doodads, manufacturers can decide whether they can look under the hood and replace parts in the same way every weekend last century.
How Tesla is playing with the problem
Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images
Given the fact that cars are increasingly being controlled by modules and microchips, all-wheel drive hobbyists are affected by the DCMA in an astonishing, unexpected way. For example, Rich Benoit, who hosts Rich Rebuilds' popular YouTube channel, said he lent the creators of the like-minded Gears & Gasoline channel one of his Teslas to demonstrate "how great these cars are."
Then Benoits Model S hit a pothole in West Virginia and tore a cut in the front wheel on the driver's side. The Gears & Petrol guys couldn't just jack up the limo or even drag it to a tire shop. Tesla is said to be serviced only by its official service centers, and there are none in West Virginia. Most cars take a maximum of 30 minutes to attach a donut tire. At Teslas there is a complicating factor: a very long, thin and expensive battery lines the bottom of the chassis and makes getting on, even to replace a tire, potentially dangerous.
"A mom and pop store won't lift a $ 100,000 car if it has no idea how it works," said Benoit. "If you jack the car up in the wrong place, you will damage the battery 100 percent." Why doesn't a mom and pop tire shop in West Virginia know how to jack up a Tesla? Because the car company makes the information difficult to find. The Gears & Petrol guys got a new Craigslist tire.
Benoit's YouTube channel is following its five-year search for Tesla's rescue and reverse engineering. He loves the electric roadsters, but is frustrated at how difficult it is to repair them. In this series, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Benoit, a self-taught mechanic, plays the invisible Goliath. The huge company will reluctantly kneel to help one of its greatest enemies.
In years of episodes, Benoit has collapsed multiple times, learned enough to open his own service shop – The Electrified Garage – and taught viewers the annoying limits of current repair legislation.
In 2012, Massachusetts passed the Law on the Right to Repair Cars, which gave car owners access to the same manuals and diagnostic software dealers to help them find and fix problems. The law resulted in an agreement with the Association of Global Automakers that gave mechanics similar rights nationwide. In November, Massachusetts residents may have the option to vote on an election initiative that extends the right to electronics repair. Activists are currently collecting the required signatures.
However, Massachusetts’s current right to auto repair doesn’t help Tesla owners as much as it should, including Benoit, who lives in the state. While Tesla gives mechanics the option to pay for access to car manuals (up to $ 3,000 a year), Benoit says the company limits access to its diagnostic toolkit to official Tesla service partners and attempts to become one might easily cost six digits and still be unsuccessful.
Vienna sees many parallels between the challenges of Benoit with Tesla and the struggles of iFixit with electronics manufacturers – especially “flashing modules”. To replace parts in many current electronic systems, you need to use software to flash the new component. basically to tell the system that the new part is legitimate. Because Tesla cars are so intelligent, the new unit must be flashed to the car even if an owner needs to replace a headlight.
Benoit's garage has workarounds for the problem, including self-developed software that can be used to flash some of the modules and extracting relevant chips from the unusable parts of a car. It helps that Benoit's partners at The Electrified Garage used to work for Tesla, but few mechanics, professionals or amateurs have the same expertise.
Similar challenges prevent Vienna from swapping the home button of an iPhone SE or replacing an Xbox Blu-ray drive that is paired with the mainboard. "Let's say a motor runs out on the optical drive," explains the co-founder of iFixit. "You can't just replace the motor or the optical drive. We have to sell people a new motherboard and a new optical drive at the same time – and that's ridiculous and expensive."
Repair repair laws
Since the adoption of the DCMA, a coalition of repair activists, including Vienna, has testified to the U.S. Copyright Board to request exemptions to work on certain categories of electronics such as Amazon Alexa, IoT devices, smartwatches, and tablets. In light of federal copyright law, exceptions must be made in each niche and statements made to the board.
"We added the market cap of repair-right companies to $ 2 trillion."
Even if you are not interested in breaking open your phone, computer, or console, there are environmental reasons to urge you to move, Vienna notes. The ability to unlock a phone means that older model owners who may have been pigeonholed can be sold in smaller countries with different overseas telecommunications networks. Having the latest model won't be a top priority.
Unlocking phones is, according to Vienna, "one of the most important environmental laws that the United States has passed in the past 30 years." Extending the life cycle of a product leads to a positive environmental impact. He adds that more repair shops mean more jobs in the US: "What will create more local economy – manufacture more products in Asia or repair the products we have here at home?"
The current repair status
Both republican and democratic lawmakers have introduced the right to repair in state houses across the country to create an inherent freedom for a nation of self-employed hobbyists. Why weren't the laws passed? Consider the companies that complain that granting access opens their products to piracy and abuse. Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Nikon and many other companies with deep pockets actively reject bills at the state and federal levels.
"We added up the market cap of the companies that work for the right to repair, and it was $ 2 trillion," says Wiens, who believes that the bills have a better chance of surviving at the country level because only Few laws make it through the federal mill and previous attempts have been hampered
In a 2017 letter to Nebraska State legislature, the Entertainment Software Association (which includes console makers Nintendo, Sony, EA, Microsoft, and almost every other game company you are likely to think of) complained that a bill, which the house is considering would endanger the security and intellectual property impairment.
Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Ma., And Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Both spoke about their support for the right to repair when they were presidential candidates. The farm system reform law sponsored by Warren and Sen. Cory Booker, DN.Y. includes a section that grants farmers the right to repair their own tractors. Some of them are prohibited by law from repairing their $ 800,000 tractors because of the shady behavior of companies like John Deere. Bookers Farm Bill has been on the Agriculture, Food and Forestry Committee since January, and only a few federal measures are taking off.
Still, Vienna's hopes are that a full-fledged right to repair law – such as the one scheduled for the November election in Massachusetts – will be passed at the state level and affect the entire country later this year or in 2021.
But other priorities also have priority. "I think that would be fantastic," says Wiens. "But I'm not going to tell politicians right now that this law has a higher priority than checking people's unemployment."