Right to Repair

12 February 2020

Extending the life

We are at a strange junction of history. We have unprecedented access to technology. The number and capability of single board computers, sensor chips, even things like FPGAs that are available to the hobbiest, is amazing.

At the same time we have a massive removal of normal consumer rights from the ability and the right to access their own technology. Consumer devices are sealed shut with glues, special screws, warning stickers that threaten the user with dire consequences should they have the tenacity to break them. But the main method of sealing goods is to do it with software, and the aid of copyright protections.

The Digital Millennium Copyright act in the US and many similar laws make it a crime to break a software lock that is protecting a copyright work, even if the reason is legal. So we have seen a explosion of software in devices, and as software is a copyrightable work, all a manufacturer need to do is put a lock on that and they have the law to stop anyone using the device they sold to you in ways that they don’t like.

Apart from this being a horrible business practice, it is changing our society into that consumerist culture. In a time of climate change we should be conserving resources and minimising carbon footprints. Most of the carbon footprints of devices comes from their manufacture not operation, so extending the useful life makes a large contribution.

There is substantial support for the “Right to Repair” across Europe and the US at the moment. There are a number of right to repair acts at state level in the US some making progress, some not. In Europe we recently got repair legislation for some appliances in terms of requiring the supply of parts from manufacturers for 10 years.

The battleground is now about mobile phones, though other electronic devices are also in the mix. So go to repair.eu and sign the petition. Or in the US repair.org and lobby your state senators about the Right to Repair.