Global Gains on Right to Repair

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The right to repair movement has seen some recent modest gains, as Ifixit.org reports in Right to Repair is already hurtling into action in 2019:

Over the last few years, the rag-tag Right to Repair coalition has scored a number of victories: legalizing cell phone unlocking in Congress, getting the FTC to rule “warranty void if removed” stickers null and void, and convincing the US Copyright office to grant a number of repair exemptions to federal copyright law. And in 2018 alone, Right to Repair made groundbreaking headway on the state level: 19 states introduced Right to Repair legislation—a big uptick from 12 repair-friendly states in 2017.

Here’s a list of the 2019 battlegrounds so far: Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia. Several more states are in the works.

[Jerri-Lynn here: for more detail on the developments summarized above, see here, here,  and here.]

Not only are US states considering enacting of considering whether to enshrine such a right. but the  right to repair movement is spreading internationally, to include the EU, Australia, and New Zealand.

Consumers are increasingly fed up with paying for a product,  and then finding out when it breaks down, that they’re tethered to the producer to provide repair services – at whatever ridiculous cost the company chooses to set.

Companies such as Apple and John Deere have fiercely resisted right to repair initiatives (see here, here, and here). Maintaining control over repair remains a key element of their business models.

The European Union

The EU has inserted proposed right to repair provisions into some parts of the EU Ecodesign Directive. The right to repair elements apply to large home appliances, such as refrigerators; lighting; and televisions, and aim to force manufacturers to make goods last longer and  make them easier to repair by customers or third-party services.

The Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directive – Directive 2009/125EC – established a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for energy-related products (as discussed further here).

The BBC reports in Climate change: ‘Right to repair’ gathers force that the EU action is a response to several disturbing trends:

  • One study showed that between 2004 and 2012, the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years rose from 3.5% to 8.3%.

  • An analysis of junked washing machines at a recycling centre showed that more than 10% were less than five years old.

  • Another study estimates that because of the CO2 emitted in the manufacturing process, a long-lasting washing machine will generate over two decades 1.1 tonnes less CO2 than a short-lived model.

  • Many lamps sold in Europe come with individual light bulbs that can’t be replaced. So when one bulb packs in, the whole lamp has to be jettisoned.

The BBC describes the right to repair provisions as “complex and controversial”, and notes that manufacturers claim they will stifle innovation, while:

Consumer campaigners complain the EU Commission has allowed firms to keep control of the repair process by insisting some products are mended by professionals under the control of manufacturers.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said: “This restricts the access of independent repairers to spare parts and information – and that limits the scope and affordability of repair services.” The EEB also wants other products like smart phones and printers included in the legislation.

As with so many other areas of EU regulation – plastics in a circular economy, for example, as I have discussed here – the EU provisions are a feeble response to the problem of excessive production. But they are a starting point.

Australia

Moving farther eastward, the topic of the right to repair has emerged in Australia, as I discussed most extensively  here. Last June, Apple was fined for failing to offer free fixes for iPhones and iPads previously serviced by non-Apple stores and that developed a glitch known as “Error 53.” As I noted (quoting from a MarketWatch piece, Apple fined as Australian customers win right-to-repair court fight):

Under Australian law, customers are entitled to a repair or replacement, and sometimes a refund, if a product is faulty, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which sued Apple. Some Apple customers saw Error 53 as part of a general effort to prevent users from going to non-Apple stores for repairs.

Commissioner Sarah Court said Tuesday the Federal Court of Australia ruled Apple couldn’t cease consumer guarantees because an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple…

More recently, the subject of whether its farmers need a right to repair has emerged (see Do Australian Farmers need a Right to Repair? for further discussion).

New Zealand

New Zealand ministers have been watching European developments with an eye to borrowing some elements, as reported today in Right to repair under the international spotlight as EU politicians eye new rules in Stuff:

Commerce minister Kris Faafoi said the potential for longer-lasting products could only be a good thing for New Zealand.

“Bringing consumers longer-lasting products and reducing costs by enabling an after-market for repairs would benefit many New Zealanders, and the effect on the environment is another positive,” Faafoi said.

“However, as a small country it makes sense to see how these developments are working in jurisdictions ahead of us in implementation and to learn from that.”

Although New Zealand has yet to adopt a right to repair, its consumer protection framework imposes repair requirements on manufacturers – although many consumers are not aware of their rights:

Recent cases heard by the Disputes Tribunal established “relatively long periods for the reasonable durability for some goods”, [Mark Hollingsworth, consumer protection manager at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment,] said.

“The life expectancy of a particular fridge freezer with a 12-month manufacturer’s warranty was found by a a Disputes Tribunal Referee to be at least 10 years,” he said.

“The CGA still applies whether or not a manufacturer’s warranty has expired, and a consumer’s rights under the CGA still apply once any warranty has expired.”

Consumer advocates such as Sue Chetwin, chief executive of Consumer NZ,  support right to repair rules “as too many appliances were being thrown out because there was no way to dismantle them to repair them.”

The Bottom Line

The right to repair war is far from won. But consumers have seen some recent modest victories. As I wrote in Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and…Repair, repair is a fourth element to the well-known three-R mantra which if  enshrined in public policy and our personal practices,  would go some way to reducing our collective carbon footprint.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

14 comments

  1. Ignacio

    One should not forget that the “rigth to repair” is a battle in many sectors being the most important the automotive sector. The EU already has legislation on it and here is a document that explains why. The first paragraph migth be exported to almost any other artifact, appliance, installation:

    It is generally recognised that there is fierce competition between vehicle manufacturers
    in the market for new car sales. However, once a vehicle has been purchased, competition on the markets for repair and maintenance is less intense. Thus, independent operators are needed to increase consumer choice and provide competition for vehicle manufacturer networks in the aftermarket. This is expected to lead to lower costs to consumers for repair and maintenance, which are thought to represent a significant share of total consumer expenditure on motor vehicles.

    OK, lower costs to consumers is an economical reason only. This is becoming more off topic but related.

    These argumente doesn’t bother with the environmental costs of repair vs new car which in the car industry I believe that works differently compared with appliances. My opinion is that financialization of car ownership through renting reduces the appeal of vehicle repair. If this is true, car renting results in more waste and more greenhouse emissions, although It migth result also in faster fuel-consuming to EV transition. I would very much apreciate informed opinions on this matter.

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      *Ignacio, I’m not sure if by “renting” you mean what we in the US commonly call “leasing” or if you mean newer models of car subscription services like Zipcar.

      Regarding the environmental impacts of right to repair for automobiles, I wish that environmentalists would push for the retrofitting of vehicles to EV powertrains or even just more efficient ICE.

      Retrofitting vehicles has precedent. I lived in Peru and there was a big push to retrofit taxis and other commercial vehicles to natural gas after the country created a domestic natural gas market. There was no pushback from automobile manufacturers or the oil industry since there are no automobile manufacturers and not much of an oil industry.

      Reply
      1. Ignacio

        Well… leasing and… “renting”. In Spain we use the term “renting” as long-term rental without purchasing option. Anyway I was referring to both posibilities. I like your retrofitting proposal.

        Reply
    2. Cal2

      The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allows one to take their car to independent garages for normal maintenance without voiding warranties. When something goes wrong under warranty, then and only then, do you take it to the dealer.

      The warranty while sold by the dealer is paid for by the manufacturer. If you’re nice to the dealer and their shop, you can often get them to do things under warranty, at the the manufacturers expense. Anything having to do with safety, like a defective seat belt retractor is basically an open warranty, meaning they should fix it years later if you are the original purchaser.

      A dealer want $1,756 to repair a broken exhaust system on a car under warranty. “Sorry, as written, the exhaust system is not part of the warranty…” We took it to a welding shop and they fixed it for $35.

      https://www.mlmlaw.com/library/guides/ftc/warranties/undermag.htm

      Reply
  2. a different chris

    >and aim to force manufacturers to make goods last longer and make them easier

    I am a cheap-(family blog) and buy used stuff, including major appliances. I fix them myself up to the point where it still makes sense and then buy another used replacement. The difference between what I bought in the 90’s vs what I have bought later is sad. I couldn’t believe it when I found out that my Maytag – yes, Maytag – was not only a POS but was also unfixable. Should have done more research, I guess.

    Anyway, I have an idea – at the same time we are pushing for “Right to Repair” we should have a second group, seemingly unaffiliated, pushing for “Right To A Repair”. AKA a warranty for the expected use of a product, as the example in the story gives (we expect a fridge to last 10 years, so stand behind it).

    You don’t just use one punch…. hit them as many ways as possible.

    Reply
    1. barefoot charley

      Excellent point. Poorly made products aren’t worth repairing. Mandated warranties would force manufacturers to push out their planned obsolescence. My bete noir is whizz-bang motherboards that fail years before the washing machine that was fine without them, till now. An enforced 10-year warranty would get us better motherboards.

      Reply
    2. Carla

      I have a dryer that I bought used for $100 with a 90-day warranty 22 years ago. My appliance repair man (who was here to tell me he couldn’t fix my washer) said “Don’t ever let go of that dryer. I’ll always be able to fix it, and I can’t repair the new ones. And by the way, I have the same dryer myself.”

      Reply
  3. John k

    Ridiculous that e devices like iPhone and iPads don’t have easy to replace batteries and memory, like cameras do. Simply built in obsolescence… had to replace iPad after just four years because battery.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether

      > easy to replace batteries

      And don’t forget they can “obsolesce” the batteries with software, as Apple was caught doing. Makes you wonder what other mechanical parts they can do that with, like motion detection…

      Reply
    2. John Wright

      I suspect the Apple designers made a decision to have non-removable batteries based on more than built-in obsolescence.

      A soldered in battery can be smaller with more reliable connection as there are no mechanical contacts that can degrade (or take up additional room).

      A battery with a custom form factor can also result in a smaller package when it is shoehorned into available space.

      I don’t have any Apple products.

      But I have spent considerable time evaluating removable smart Li-Ion batteries in my work.

      The portable industrial product that I work on is designed to have a large removable battery, but no one would try to fit this product in their pocket as they would Apple products.

      I’m willing to cut Apple some slack and not believe their battery design decision was as “simply built in obsolescence”

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        The manufacturers cite form factors as a reason for non removable batteries but it’s not an either/or dichotomy. There is a definite value to the user in having removable batteries which the manufacturers are deliberately ignoring in their design decisions. For one thing, if the device gets wet you will have a better chance of saving it if you can remove the battery. And the goal of a smaller form factor is laughable when most people put their phones in giant protective cases anyway.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *