In 2018, a class-action lawsuit was filed by a group of Apple iPhone owners against Apple in a District court in California, USA. The plaintiffs alleged that Apple was engaging in anti-competitive behavior by making it difficult for consumers to have their iPhones repaired by third-party repair shops. The lawsuit claimed that Apple’s practices had caused them financial harm, as they had to pay more for repairs or purchase new devices altogether.
Apple denied these allegations, but in March 2021, the company settled the lawsuit for $113 million. The settlement also included a commitment from Apple to provide consumers with more information about iPhone battery health and performance and to make it easier for consumers to have their devices repaired by third-party repair shops.
This case was a significant win for the Right to Repair movement. Since then, this movement has gained considerable momentum, with people from across the globe advocating for consumers to have more control over repairing their electronic devices.
In a nutshell, Right to Repair allows consumers to extend the life of their phones, appliances, or other electronic devices by providing them access to repair. The idea is to encourage repairing devices instead of replacement.
Benefits of Rights to Repair
Apple’s case is not unique; many manufacturers have tried to hold on to their fiefdom over certain products. Manufacturers also control access to spare parts, nuts, bolts, and repair processes, so customers cannot self-repair or get it done from third-party repairers. They design the products in such a fashion that makes repairs extraordinarily costly and complex.
There are also cases where manufacturers design a product that is supposed to last only for a particular period. After that, it has to be mandatorily replaced, as it becomes difficult to fix.
Rights to repair will also check these organizations that engage in non-competitive practices, limit the information they share about the product, and control who repairs their products.
This program can also help generate employment as technicians will be required in the repair field. People staying in the villages but using the products can get them repaired by local repair shops instead of coming to big cities.
In addition, the right to repair can significantly help address climate change and environmental issues.
How will it help the environment?
The Right to Repair movement has the potential to not only help consumers financially but will also help in reducing excessive electronic waste (e-waste) generation.
E-waste is a growing environmental concern because it contains hazardous materials that can harm human health and the environment if disposed of improperly. When electronic devices are disposed of in landfills, toxic materials such as lead, mercury, and cadmium can leak into the soil and groundwater, leading to environmental degradation. In addition, e-waste can release harmful gases when burned, contributing to air pollution and accelerating climate change.
According to Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy report, global e-waste production will reach 120 million tonnes annually by 2050 if current trends continue.
While we need regulations to promote the proper disposal and recycling of e-waste, including implementing take-back programs for electronics manufacturers and encouraging consumers to recycle their electronic devices through designated facilities, rights to repair can help reduce the generation of e-waste, as products will be used for an extended period.
What is needed to make it a success
Electronic products like mobile phones, tablets, laptops, earphones, smartwatches, tablets, music players, washing machines, TVs, other consumer durables, automobiles, etc., can be included under the Right to Repairs.
To make Right to Repair successful, manufacturers must adapt to manufacturing and design standards that make products repairable. They also need to develop self-repair manuals that clearly explain how to repair the products and make diagnostic tools and service parts more accessible.
The flip side of allowing Repairs
Designing and manufacturing products is highly complex; companies spend years researching, innovating, and developing the best products for their consumers. There are also patents given for their innovation and research.
Suppose spare parts, user manuals, and other details are freely accessible. In that case, the right to repair can allow other companies to copy and manufacture low-grade products, which might infringe on the original patents.
There are chances that repairs done by non-experts can harm or damage the product. Furthermore, given that most electronic gadgets are smart and connected to the internet, the right to repairs can potentially compromise the product’s security, which might lead to privacy leaks or dangerous activities.
The right to repair has been recognized in many countries, including the US, UK, India, and European Union.
Many states and countries have also made legislation around this. New York became the first state in the USA to make a legislature called the Digital Fair Repair Act, which will come into effect on July 1st, 2023. There are states in the USA that are working on similar laws.
In December 2022, the Indian government introduced a right-to-repair portal, where the manufacturers will share product details so that customers can repair it themselves or with third parties.
While it is good to see laws and regulations getting in place, they need to protect consumer rights, data security, and organization’s intellectual property.