Right to Repair: New York state decrees first-ever Law for Electronics

The New York state legislature has given the United States’ the first “right to repair” bill covering electronics. Called the Fair Repair Act, the measure would require all manufacturers who sell “digital electronic products” within state borders to make tools, parts, and repair instructions available to consumers and independent shops.

Having passed the legislature, it is awaiting the signature of Governor Kathy Hochul, who is expected to support the measure. The action will take effect one year after it passes into law. ‘Repairs should become less expensive and more comprehensive’ because of the new standard, says iFixit.

In a blog post following the announcement, self-repair groups like iFixit have applauded the ruling, calling it “one giant leap for repairing” in a blog post following the announcement.

“The passage of this bill means that repairs should become less expensive and more comprehensive: people who want to fix their stuff can,” the post reads. “Where before, manufacturers could push consumers to use manufacturer-authorized shops, now they’ll have to compete.”

The move comes after sustained federal pressure to enforce consumers’ rights to repair and refurbish their purchased goods. Last year, President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce repair rights, which the incoming majority commissioners applauded.

New York isn’t the first state to pass a right to repair bill, but it’s the first such bill to apply to electronics broadly. A previous Massachusetts law focused on automobile data, and earlier this year, Colorado passed a bill ensuring repair rights for powered wheelchairs. The language of the New York bill does include exceptions for home appliances, medical devices, and agricultural equipment the last of which has been a particular flash point for advocates.

Still, the law is likely to impact far beyond the borders of New York state. Now that manufacturers selling goods in New York are required to make repair manuals available, it’s likely those manuals will quickly become known around the world. More invasive software measures will also become impractical, leading to broad changes in how electronics are designed and maintained.

Electronic right to repair is proposed legislation that would provide the practical means for electronics equipment owners to improve their devices. Repair is lawful under copyright law and patent law. However, owners and autonomous technicians often cannot complete their repairs because of manufacturer limitations on entry to repair materials such as tools, diagnostics, parts, documentation, and firmware.

The proposed legislation has taken note of the remarkable power of state governments in the US to need both fair and reasonable contracts (“UDAP”) law and General Business Law. It allows states to make specific requirements of businesses seeking to do business within their borders. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission, under US Law, has the authority to restrict UDAP violations.

While a global consideration, the primary debate over the issue has centered on the United States and the European Union. Additional efforts are now steady in Canada and Australia. Bloggers, activists, and volunteer groups like Louis Rossmann and the Repair Cafe movement initiated by Martine Postma are active promoters of restoration rights.

The right to repair electronics allows end users, consumers, and businesses to enhance electronic gadgets they own or assist without any manufacturer or technical restrictions. In addition, this concept aims to render electronics easier and cheaper to repair to prolong the lifecycle of such devices and reduce electronic waste caused by broken or unused devices.

Four provisions for electronic devices are of particular significance:

  • the device should be built and designed in a manner that authorizes repairs to be made quickly;
  • End users & independent repair providers should be competent to access original spare parts and tools (software and physical tools) required to fix the device under fair market conditions;
  • repairs should be feasible by design and not hindered by software programming;
  • The manufacturer should convey the repairability of a device.

While initially driven majorly by automotive consumer protection agencies and the automotive after-sales service industry, the discussion of establishing a right to repair is not only for vehicles. It is for any electronic product to gain traction as consumer electronics like smartphones and computers became universally available, causing broken and utilized electronics to become the fastest growing waste stream.

Today, it’s assessed that more than half of the western world’s population has one or more used or broken electronic gadgets at home that are not submitted back into the market due to a lack of affordable repair. The right to repair campaign tries to address these problems by proposing legislation obligating manufacturers to authorize access to spare parts and repair tools at fair market prices and design devices that will enable easy repair to favor repair over replacement. Factors that made independent repair more difficult.

Product Design

Many right-to-repair advocates claim that modern electronic devices have components glued in place or attached to make them hard to remove. However, the motivations behind such designs are not always clear-cut. For instance, the Google Pixel 6 Pro has a glued battery but contains a plastic tab to aid removal, implying that the adhesive was meant for a purpose other than to interfere with the repair.

Part Pairing

New modes to lock devices like part pairing (elements of a device are serialized and can not be exchanged against others) became increasingly popular among manufacturers. However, even the most common repairs, such as replacing a smartphone display, can cause malfunctions due to locks implemented in the software.

So, for example, Apple has slowly restricted the swap of iPhone displays, ranging from alerting messages to extracting security features such as Face ID if a manufacturer-authorized repair facility did not swap the show. While this trend was initiated in the agricultural sector by tractor manufacturer John Deere, it has become a widespread phenomenon in consumer electronics over the past five years.