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Barney: The Necessity of Right to Repair in Utah

Companies in several industries obstruct the ability of consumers to repair their products. This raises the issue of whether we truly own what we purchase.
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Ilona Buhler
(Design by Ilona Buhler | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Think of what it’s like to own a car.

Personally, I used to drive a less reliable car to save as much money as possible, but this approach backfired on me. I ended up spending more on repairs than I would have if I had invested in a nicer, newer vehicle. I replaced the cooling system, brakes and tires. The repairs seemed endless.

Most car owners don’t do maintenance themselves, and for good reason. There are plenty of complicated repairs to do on cars, and most people would prefer a qualified technician to get their hands dirty, whether to avoid the hassle, due to lack of knowledge or confidence.

But the nice part about our current laws for car maintenance is there are options. In my situation, I wanted to do most repairs myself. We can choose to repair our vehicles ourselves, or we can go to a large variety of mechanics. Just like there are good reasons to take your repairs to a pro, there are also lots of good reasons to do them yourself. Either way, you have a choice.

But certain industries, such as electronics, do not have this same luxury.

Several companies have been actively hostile to so-called right-to-repair movements and laws, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. This begs the question of whether we actually own what we buy.

These corporation’s actions show that we can’t trust them to uphold our right to use what we purchased. Ultimately, we need to push for comprehensive legislation in every relevant industry and secure our right to repair.

What is the Issue?

Over the past decade, Apple’s products have become intentionally harder to repair through the implementation of software locks and other methods. This is a policy position maintained by farm equipment companies, including Ram and John Deere. Apple is just one of the most egregious offenders.

When looked at in good faith, it’s clear that there are many decisions made by companies, such as Apple, which intentionally inhibit our abilities to fix their devices. Setting aside the environmental cost and damaging impact on small businesses, these are all a spit in the face to consumers. There is no reasonable basis for trying to dictate how consumers use the products they buy after they buy them.

Arguments against the right to repair, in favor of protecting intellectual property or security, become immediately defunct when put under any amount of analysis on the subject. For electronics, methods like what Apple implements aren’t doing anything for security or IP — if someone has the capability to reverse engineer or do anything meaningful, a software or firmware lock will not protect the intellectual property.

Agnosticism doesn’t really exist for this issue. Either manufacturers allow repairs on their devices or they don’t.

What Good Companies Look Like

Companies such as Lenovo and Framework create highly repairable and reusable devices with comprehensive guides on how to service them. Furthermore, they use standard interfaces for different parts, which can be switched out with third-party parts or upgraded. Logitech also operates in a similar manner.

This type of modularity and reusability is great for everyone and makes technology more accessible. More repairable devices will also be better at stopping planned obsolescence.

Less repairable devices force us into terrible options. How companies like Apple operate is analogous to buying a new car because of a popped tire. The analogy becomes less of an analogy and more of a direct comparison when the price of devices is taken into consideration.

How to Fix It

The solution to this egregious violation of property rights is legislation to preserve consumers’ rights to their property and to enforce modularity.

Over the past few years, right-to-repair laws have been passed in many different states — but Utah hasn’t gotten on board. Federally, Joe Biden has backed the movement, which isn’t surprising given his position on motorsports.

“Right to repair” laws have mostly surrounded agricultural equipment and tools for electronic repair, which is a great start. But ideally, we should introduce legislation mandating schematics and repair guides be made public, as well as requiring companies to sell first-party parts and replacements for a certain amount of time after a product’s release. It would also be great to see better standardization within industries and allow more options and modularity.

First-party replacements aren’t the only thing that should be on the market. Aftermarket parts have always existed with cars, which is a trend that should spill over to electronics and farm equipment. Allowing third-party parts and individuals to repair and replace their own stuff also gives variety to the market, allowing consumers to choose pricing and performance. This curates a solution that works for them rather than adhering to whatever company created the product.

There is no reasonable basis to prohibit the repair of personal property for the average person, especially when we have a comprehensive legal framework surrounding fair use. Companies shouldn’t artificially restrict what can be repaired and we need legislation that enforces this in every industry.

 

[email protected]

@Sebbywrites

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About the Contributors
Sebastian Barney, Opinion Writer
I'm Sebastian. I like tech and stuff so I majored in computer science. I like politics and stuff so I joined student media. Now I write code and opinions.
Ilona Buhler, Designer
Ilona Buhler is a 3rd year at the University of Utah pursuing a degree in Strategic Communication with a minor in Computer Science. Ilona grew up moving across the world from spending the majority of her childhood in England, then moving to San Diego, California. She then completed high school and moved to Salt Lake City for college. In her free time, Ilona loves to ski, climb and paint. She spends the majority of her free time outside even when she is on campus

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