The Right to Repair – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Apple recently announced that consumers will have the right to purchase spare components of their products. This has been done after an order of the Federal Trade Commission of the United States. The order directs manufacturers to remedy unfair anti-competitive practices and asks them to make sure that consumers can make repairs, either themselves or by a third-party agency. The move is a positive step to strengthen the right to repair which would allow individuals to optimally utilize the purchased goods. It would enable countries like India to enact concrete provisions on the right to repair by taking inspiration from their western counterparts including the U.S and U.K.

What is the Right to Repair and its background?

It is a right to give users and third-party companies the required tools, parts and manuals related to a product. This would enable them to repair a product on their own instead of depending on the manufacturers. The right to repair movement traces its roots back to the very dawn of the computer era in the 1950s. 

The rationale behind the movement is that the individual who purchases a product must own it completely. This implies that apart from being able to use the product, consumers must be able to repair and modify the product the way they want to.

However in spite of the movement, repairing is becoming unreasonably expensive or pretty much impossible because of the technology becoming obsolete. Further, companies avoid the publication of manuals that can help users make repairs easily, manufacturers have proprietary control over spare parts and most firms refuse to make their products compatible with those of other firms.

What are the reasons to provide Right to Repair?

Pricing: The absence of repair manuals means that manufacturers hold near-monopoly over repair workshops that charge consumers exorbitant prices.

Tackle planned obsolescence: Planned obsolescence is a policy of producing consumer goods that become obsolete after a certain period of time. Consequently, consumers must buy the new product once the existing product becomes unusable. It is achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials. 

In such a scenario, buying a replacement is often cheaper and easier than repairing them. However, with the right to repair, companies would be induced to make durable and long-lasting devices.

Right to Choose: Monopoly on repair processes infringes the customers’ ‘right to choose’ recognised by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Boosting Local Economy: Right to repair allows opening up of small repair shops in the local area that adds to the revenue of the region and also creates sufficient employment.

Environment protection: It will prevent faster dumping of electronic devices into the landfill and encourage judicious use of resources for environment protection. Further, manufacturing an electronic device is a highly polluting process. It makes use of polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuel, which has an adverse impact on the environment. Improving longevity of electronic devices will reduce the impact on environment.

The image provides reasons to support the Right to Repair UPSC

Source: iFixtit. iFixit is a global community of people helping each other repair things. It provides thousands of repair manuals for a wide range of devices, from cellphones to appliances. All the content is provided by volunteer users.

Which is the global status of Right to Repair?

Some jurisdictions offer limited scope for exercising the right to repair:

Australia: Under the Australian Consumer Law, consumers have a right to request that certain goods be repaired if they break too easily or do not work properly. Manufacturers must provide spare parts and repair facilities for a ‘reasonable’ time after an item is purchased. Repair cafés are a remarkable feature of the Australian system. These are free meeting places where volunteer fixers gather to share their repairing skills with people who bring in items such as bikes, appliances etc. goods that need mending.

U.S: The Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, 2012 requires automobile manufacturers to provide spare parts and diagnostics to buyers and even independent third-party mechanics. On July 09 2021, the US President signed an executive order. It has lifted restrictions imposed by manufacturers that limit consumers’ ability to repair their gadgets on their own terms. 

U.K: It introduced the path-breaking ‘right to repair’ in 2021 that makes it legally binding on manufacturers to provide spare parts.

European Union: Its right to repair laws require manufacturers to ensure that electronic goods can be repaired for up to a decade.

What are the challenges in granting the Right to Repair?

Security and Privacy: Tech giants contend that security and privacy concerns may crop up if products based on a technology patented by them are opened up by third parties.

Lobbying by Big Companies: Large tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Tesla, have been lobbying against the right to repair. They are constantly claiming that they are working towards greater durability themselves. 

For instance; In 2021, Apple took more steps towards reducing its contribution to e-waste. It has now expanded its free, independent repair provider program in 200 countries.

Microsoft has pointed out how it improved the battery and hard drive of its third-generation Surface Laptop after it was criticized for making it next to impossible to replace the battery in older models.

Other mechanisms to restrict independent repairing: Big companies often deploy mechanisms that practically forbid other enterprises to repair their products. For instance, Digital warranty cards ensure that by getting a product from a “non-recognised” outfit, a customer loses the right to claim a warranty.

What lies ahead?

First, India should enact a dedicated repair law in order to augment consumer welfare. In Shamsher Kataria v Honda Siel Cars India Ltd (2017), the Competition Commission of India (CCI) ruled that restricting the access of spare parts to independent automobile repair units by way of an end-user license agreement was anti-competitive. The CCI observed that the practice was detrimental to consumer welfare.

Second, countries must learn from good legislations and practices from other countries like the prevalence of Repair cafes in Australia.

Third, countries must realize that a well-drafted legislation will not only uphold the right to repair but may aid in striking a much-needed balance between intellectual property and competitive laws in the country. Further, it will strengthen the circular economy by improving the life span, maintenance, re-use, upgrade, recyclability and waste handling of appliances.

Conclusion

Countries around the world have been attempting to pass effective ‘right to repair’ laws. But the movement has faced tremendous resistance from tech giants such as Apple and Microsoft over the years. Nonetheless, the recent move by Apple has given a positive thrust to the right to repair movement and is expected to expedite the formulation of repair laws in other countries.

Source: Indian Express, India Express, Business Standard

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