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What is the Right to Repair?

The Right to Repair relates to the anti-consumerist actions of certain companies and the proposed legislation against these practices that would give consumers the choice of where they repair their device. The Right to Repair is about having the option to go somewhere else for repairs other than the original manufacturer, who can charge a premium for this, and not simply making the products easier to repair. In this article we will look at the importance of Right to Repair in relation to consumer electronics and what the Right to Repair movement stands for, and why some companies prefer to limit repairability.

Goals of the Right to Repair movement

The main goals of the Right to Repair movement are as follows:

  • Give everyone fair access to documentation (manuals, schematics) and software updates.
  • Make the necessary parts and tools available to third parties (repair centres), and also the consumer.
  • Allow the user to unlock and modify a device. This would allow the owner to install their preferred software.
  • Design devices so that repairs can be made relatively easily.

Why is Right to Repair important?

Whilst there are no laws against repairing your own electronic devices, or even going to a third party repair shop for a repair, it can be very difficult if not impossible to do so. In part due to a lack of replacement parts, and in part the complexity of the repair.

It is often the case that authorised repair shops are not able to get access to manuals and diagrams which show how a product is assembled, effectively reducing the amount of repairs that they can undertake, and reducing third party comprehension of how a product is put together.

Why are repairs difficult?

There are two types of repair complexity:

  • The repair is complicated because of the nature of the parts.
  • The repair is complicated because the manufacturer wants to limit external repairs and encourage in house repairs.

Changing a mobile phone or laptop battery should be attainable for tech savvy consumers, whilst understandably, replacing broken LEDs in an LED display may be out of reach.

The Right to Repair is about giving consumers the choice of either doing the repair themselves (for less complicated repairs), going to the official repair centre, or going to a third party repair centre who have the knowledge and have access to parts to repair the device to a high standard.

Why do companies limit repairability?

Ultimately, companies want to keep control over their products. They want to be the ones that you need to go for spare parts or a repair so that they can offer this service and charge a premium for it. Keeping the repairs “in house” should also ensure that they are done to a high standard and are in keeping with the requirements of the company. The latter reasons arguably also

One of the main questions related to the Right to Repair is that when you own something, do you really own it? Surely, if you own something and it breaks, you should be able to repair it, no? Some companies are actively anti Right to Repair, such as John Deere. John Deere tractor (and other farm equipment) owners may own the machinery, however they do not own the software that is necessary to run the machine. Meaning, a simple software issue could prevent you being able to use the machinery that you paid for unless you pay for a software update.

Why repair a device?

Cost

There are many reasons why repairing or upgrading a part on your device is a good idea. Firstly, from a financial standpoint, it can save the consumer money. For example, if your mobile phone’s screen is cracked, it can be prohibitively expensive to replace the screen if you use Apple’s iPhone screen repair program (especially for newer models).

Looking at Apple’s iPhone screen replacement costs on their website, prices vary from $129 for older models (iPhone 5, iPhone SE, iPhone 6), and up to $329 for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Note: All of these prices are for out of warranty screen repair.

On the iFIXIT store you can purchase a replacement iPhone 5 screen for $39.99. Alternatively, you can purchase a second hand iPhone SE for less than $100, making the screen repair more expensive than buying a new, albeit second hand, device. Both of these options would still cost less than if you went through Apple’s official program. This is an example where people can choose to go elsewhere for their repairs, and save money in doing so.
Environmental Impact

There is a strong environmental argument for using a product for as long as it works, and doing what you can to extend the lifespan of the product. Repairing devices rather than throwing them away is much better for the environment. A new battery in an old phone or laptop could add years to your device’s lifespan, ultimately reducing the amount of e-waste.

And you don’t have to stop at repairs, you can actively upgrade certain devices to make them last. For example, my Mid 2012 MacBook Pro. I have replaced the battery numerous times, removed the disc drive in order to add an SSD (for speed, and to have additional storage), added RAM and even replaced the screen. This laptop has lasted me for 8 years so far and it is still functional today. Whilst I did have to pay for the new parts, the cost has still been less than either taking it to the Apple Store, and or replacing my laptop each time there was an issue. Nowadays Apple’s products are becoming more advanced, with higher levels of integration (soldered on chipsets, RAM etc), and thus more complicated to repair.

So for companies that are supposedly working towards reducing their Carbon footprint and their overall environmental impact, it is concerning that some repairs, that would ultimately prolong the life of your product, are simply not possible, or too complicated for the average user to perform.

Conclusion

In the future, tech will continue to improve and become even more closely integrated and connected, with the caveat of making it less repairable. The Right to Repair movement will continue to argue that consumers deserve to repair the products that they own in a way that is attainable for them. This doesn’t mean that tech products need to be built so simply that anyone can repair them, just that those that have the skill to do so (third party repair shops or certified repair shops) have access to proper documentation and parts to do so.
Photo: Unsplash. Video: Marques Brownlee

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