Should We Be Allowed to Fix Our Own Devices?
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Smartphones are a big part of everyone’s lives. Inevitably, something is going to go wrong with it. Much of the time, unless you want to buy a new phone, the only way you can get your phone repaired is taking it to a company-licensed place like Apple’s Genius Bar. However, a movement for the “right to repair” has been gaining traction through the United States and now Europe.
The “right to repair” laws can mostly be defined by requiring companies to release repair manuals and sell replacement parts to people who want to repair their devices on their own. While the main argument has been centered around smartphone repair as of late, the same debate has been relevant to motor vehicle repair such as cars and tractors. For instance, tractor manufacturers like John Deere prohibit farmers from repairing their own tractors or hiring anyone else but an authorized agent to repair it (How Stuff Works). As of this writing, 20 out of 50 states in the United States have passed right to repair laws (US PIRG). A leaked set of documents dictates the European Union is also thinking of proposing a similar set of right to repair laws for electronics. Before tech became this advanced, this wasn’t as big of an issue. Often cars and electronics were much simpler, parts were easier to come by, and oftentimes the cost of a mistake wouldn’t be as high.
Proponents of the law assert the right to be able to repair their devices on their own or allow a third-party repair person to work on their device. Sometimes in largely populated places, manufacturer-authorized repair places will be backlogged with device repairs, so it can take a week to get your phone fixed. If it’s possible to go to another retailer, it can lessen the chance of backlog. Also, the prices will be more competitive if there is third-party competition. DIY (do-it-yourself) people would also be likely interested in being able to repair their own devices. There is already a niche market for making your own computer, so it would make sense that some consumers would be interested in being able to repair their own phone.
Much of the opposition to the laws comes from the companies themselves. The rise of third-party repair agents will inevitably cut into direct revenue for the company (even if some of it can be recouped through selling official parts or providing official training courses). One of the other arguments have been due to safety. Some of the parts in a smartphone, such as the lithium battery, can cause a health hazard if mishandled (Apple Insider). However, it is likely that people who already are confident to dismantle and repair their device that costs at least 1000 dollars would probably be aware of the dangers of puncturing a lithium battery. Another fear that I didn’t see but thought would be a genuine consideration is intellectual property. As of now, if only licensed facilities can buy parts from the company, it is less easy to be able to copy any of the parts. If a company can reproduce genuine parts for cheaper, this can also lead to a loss of revenue.
The Right to Repair has been a hot topic in tech and DIY circles, especially in the past year. On one side, it makes sense that people would want to repair their own device or have the option to go anywhere other than the official licensed facilities. On the other side, companies will experience a lack of revenue, and there can be some safety and intellectual property concerns. As tech gets more complicated, it will be interesting how the right to repair affects the evolution of technology over time.