A Bit Of Mainstream Coverage For The Right To Repair

Here at Hackaday, we write for a community of readers who are inquisitive about the technology surrounding them. You wouldn’t be here if you had never taken a screwdriver to a piece of equipment to see what makes it work. We know that as well as delving inside and modifying devices being core to the hardware hacker mindset, so is repairing. If something we own breaks, we try to work out why it broke, and what we can do to fix it.

Unfortunately, we live in an age in which fixing the things we own is becoming ever harder. Manufacturers either want to sell us now hardware rather than see us repair what breaks, or wish to exercise total control over the maintenance of their products. They make them physically impossible to repair, for example by gluing together a cellphone, or they lock down easy-to-repair items with restrictive software, for example tractors upon which every replacement part must be logged on a central computer.

This has been a huge issue in our community for a long time now, but to the Man In The Street it barely matters. To the people who matter, those who could change or influence the situation, it’s not even on the radar. Which makes a piece in the British high-end weekly newspaper The Economist particularly interesting. Entitled “A ‘right to repair’ movement tools up“, it lays out the issues and introduces the Repair Association, a political lobby group that campaigns for “Right to repair” laws in the individual states of the USA.

You might now be asking why this is important, why are we telling you something you already know? The answer lies in the publication in which it appears. The Economist is aimed at politicians and influencers worldwide. In other words, when we here at Hackaday talk about the right to repair, we’re preaching to the choir. When they do it at the Economist, they’re preaching to the crowd who can make a difference. And that’s important.

You may recognise the tractors mentioned earlier as the iconic green-and-yellow John Deere. We’ve written about their DRM before.

Neon sign, All Electronics Service, Portland, Visitor7 [CC BY-SA 3.0].

80 thoughts on “A Bit Of Mainstream Coverage For The Right To Repair

  1. My property, I’ll do as I wish. If it is under contract, that is one thing, but, if I own it free & clear, I’ll do as I please. If I brick or break it, that is my fault.
    Most of the “no user serviceable parts inside” garbage, is just to make it more expensive, or impossible to repair, thus requiring you to toss it out and buy a new one. I started my “journey” into electronics in the mid 70’s, when vacuum tubes were starting to go away, but still very much in use. Television repair changed from troubleshooting to board swapping. You couldn’t repair the boards, because the manufacturers didn’t want you do. Some boards you returned, the others you just threw them in the trash. Schematics became block diagrams. (I got out of the TV repair field QUICKLY).

    1. Of course dealerships repaired the modular system boards in TVs, and did so. Because the techs could do easily and quickly, and the tech was on the clock no matter how the products where repaired. The swapple boards was mostly adverting tenderizing wank directed towards consumer concerned the high priced equipment thy might purchase would be out of their use for a long time. “see that George they could fix I TV as fast as takes you to leave me unsatisfied”

    2. No, I think most fault on the “no user serviceable parts inside” issue has the absurd liability legislation, especially originating from USA, but the EU unfortunately is catching up quickly. If you read any service manual, you have 10s of pages of warnings in 27 languages and only when you are lucky you find some hints on the actual use and operation of the product. You need even more luck to find technical data or features in the manual.

      Part of this board swapping only repair is of course because of modern manufacturing. It is just impossible to reliably (don’t think economically) repair boards populated with small pitch BGAs and 0201 SMD components. Even the manufacturers of boards scrap them if the don’t pass factory test. You don’t try to repair ICs, do you? :-)

  2. Oh dear, if you click on their find out how to take further action link (on their website) you get a picture of a lock and a password field.

    Part of the issue not only lies with the manufacturers but also the general public that don’t want to PAY for repairs.

    Sure it would be easier if companies provided better information but it’s only part of the issue.

    The other part is dodgey “repairers” “mechanics” etc. it seems the ones that have full manufacture support are the worst. Car dealers are the main culprits here!

    1. As a manufacturer, the user experience of a legally compliant product is important to our paying customers. Poorly maintained or outdated equipment is seen as a market liability, and some person with the wrong tools or training can be dangerous. We only open equipment locks after they have been broken, and never waste resources on DRM — why? because we are a business and want to recover our investment in the markets, and will undermine piracy revenue streams by any legal means available to us. Note we do flag equipment that has been tampered with by blowing chip level fuses, notifying the owners, and not supporting counterfeit equipment. Why? because it is your equipment — not our work anymore… so don’t try to scam our support services.

      If John Deere or Apple make it clear they want to victimize customers, than they should have the right to tell communists to shove their moral superiority claim. However, equipment owners should have the right to sue if known consumable replacement parts required additional fees for maintenance — the same logic applies to phone unlocking after initial contracts end, and is already considered law in many areas.

      1. “Poorly maintained or outdated equipment is seen as a market liability, and some person with the wrong tools or training can be dangerous. ”

        So basically owner “fixes” vehicle, it explodes killing everyone, and manufacturer of vehicle is sued?

        1. If you are so lucky… when you deal with large populations there are no limits to what people will try or ignore.
          You can look at how Tesla dealt with the stream of cases from a lawyer that successfully sued other automakers over dubious “repair” claims — and issues immediately stopped after sealing service panels with tamper detection stickers.

          Some people are crazy, and given enough time/volume they will pose a problem for business if you ignore them.

      2. I’m confused as to why you brought communism into this topic. To my eye it reads because of your opinion that Apple and John Deer are victimizing their customers, Apple and John Deere are communists. In the event that’s what you are saying, please refrain writing or vocalizing support for the any right to repair legislation. Such legislation will be easy for many legislators to vote against if they receive, many communications like that. Apple and John Deere are capitalists”, what par of communism don’t you understand? You and I must have differing understanding what consumable parts are.

    1. Louis Rossmann did a video on how the wifi chip in a MacBook can’t be swapped any more, as they apparently are programmed to be usable in one machine and one machine only. No wonder people are pushing for their rights to repair. That has nothing to do with reason any more and is a burden on customers and environment alike.

        1. Queue the apple branded 3-pin capacitors where the 3rd pin is the DRM/ID pin… ya know, just in case that capacitor bit the dust so the failure won’t spread without getting hold of that $285 capacitor!

  3. I am hopeful of this taking on.

    Not because of my personal desires but because we are living a false economy and we need fix this for our own good.

    We are using the resources of 1.7 earths and this is simply not sustainable. Our disposable consumerism is a big part of the cause.

    It’s because of this false economy, repairs seem too expensive when in reality the alternative we have now is vastly more expensive in the long term.

    Also @[Jenny List] I think you may have meant … want to sell us *new* hardware … great article, thanks.

    1. If we used “the resources of 1.7 earths” as you claim, we would all be dead. We have obviously not even used the resources of 1.0 earths yet. I am not trying to be mean here but I just hate seeing numbers tossed out like that. I am sure you got them from somewhere, I am not suggesting that you made them up but, think about it a minute and you will see that is impossible. I totally agree that resources should not be wasted and, yes, mankind wastes a lot of them. I do not. I can not afford to do so. For example, my vehicle has 239,000 miles on it and counting and my electric bill was $31 again this month.

      1. I think he meant to say we are using up resources at a 1.7 times the rate the earth is providing resources, so while the capital has not been spent yet, sooner or later it will be spent. I also believe most readers would correctly understand his reference to a concept practically everybody has been exposed to.

        It’s the same difference between losing money and being bankrupt.

        But I agree that the exact meaning of “rate of human consumption of resources” and “rate of earth providing resources” are somewhat hard to define especially with heterogeneous mixture of resources (i.e. the mammoths are already used up while we probbaly wont use up all salty water any time soon).

      2. going into environmental fear mongering is not the answer. but its not entirely false either. we currently exist at a time of abundance and we are very far from having completely strip mined all the planet of all it has to offer. but out inability to see beyond our own life span is going to bite our species in the ass one day. but of course thats not my problem. why should i care when my planet locked great great great great great grandchildren have to resort to cannibalism to survive. thats their problem.

        i simply do not use products when my bullshit detector is going off about them. i dont see why people need to buy a new phone every year when moore’s law is essentially dead and all you are really buying is software upgrades on phones that are more or less have the the same hardware, a radio glued to a computer and a battery. therefore i simply will not get sucked into that craze, societal pressure be damned. but its just that industry is used to a trend and hasn’t really adjusted its self to the fact that the technological progress of their cash cow has stagnated.

  4. The most disturbing trend by far is built in obsolescence. The fridge used to have a slow larger volume compressor. They lasted for decades, they were designed to be repaired too. Now they have tiny displacement pumps that scream along at four times the speed. Just so they grenade in a few years. If you double the speed of a machine you quadruple the wear. It is not a tinkerer’s playground anymore.

        1. An un-dented blown refrigerator is a pretty well designed cooler with integrated evaporator and condenser. Just solder in a good oversized compressor to the loop, evacuate and fill with coolant, I have even heard of people using propane as refrigerant. Take it to an auto paint place if you don’t like the color or scratches.
          After you have done all that why not rip out the ‘brains’ and replace with something you control and write the code for to do thermostat, fans, light, ice maker and water cooler.

      1. Economies of scale come into play. If everyone manufactures well built gear it will cost more than trash but not by a giant margin. Once trash dominates the market anyone wanting to build what was previously considered a decent quality item now has to make it in boutique quantities and sell at a corresponding price. Case in point: Black and Decker. Tear down a vintage tool from them and you’ll find it was well built. Drop one of their contemporary pieces and you’ll conduct an impromptu tear down inadvertently
        .

        1. Aaaand… that’s why there is such things as consumer grade vs business grade in a lot of areas.
          OK, you can’t feel the quality via an online picture… you just can’t pick one up.
          Case in point:
          There are a range of Dell Latitude laptops and they come in an entry-level plastic case or a full metal casing.
          Try looking for the metal ones when making a purchasing choice… Phone up and ask what ones are full metal and not called “Metal” just because it has some metal cross-beam support for say… the mouse or the Enter key or some useless gimmick.

          Reason being is they sell cheap stuff with 20% margin and make loads more in the long run, UseForAyear-Bin-replace-repeat.
          Whereas the longer lasting well built machine may have a 50% margin, however make $500 on one unit over 10 years or make $1000 off the same person over the same 10 years… Double your profits. Multiply that by billions of people and you make a mint!
          Now, it is up to the people to spend a significant more to gain longer lasting machines. Oh and $1000 over 10 years for a large corp is feasable… because of mass production the per unit cost goes down and masses buy the stock at even 1M people is a total of $500,000,000 over that space in profit on one device alone. Count several devices per person… and so on.

          1. ” Oh and $1000 over 10 years for a large corp is feasable… ”

            Depreciation enters into play as well, corporations write off equipment while it is still usable for tax breaks.

    1. Refrigerators have also become much more energy efficient during this same time period. Is this smaller, faster compressor part of the reason? Would your slow, high volume one be as energy efficient?

      1. If it is speed controlled (with an inverter) than probably yes, but normally it isn’t. If you don’t have a frequency converter, you are limited to fixed slightly lower than 3000rpm due to the 50Hz mains frequency.
        If you have it, you can control speed to make it more efficient and also increase rpm. Then you can build a smaller faster compressor which is cheaper, so you do it.

      1. Do! Mom passed away yrs ago, and her microwave gave up last month. 20 or 25 yrs old. Door safety switch overheated and gave out. Part cost less than the shipping. After an additional check to insure new switch not experiencing heating, it’s back in use.

        1. Lots at home you can fix. List of things worth it to take a shot at.
          Coffee Makers. Automatic and manual, often easy fix. (strip electronics out of automatic and buy just manual from then on).
          Dishwashers, web is your friend.
          Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans. Just a couple drops of oil for gosh sake!

          1. If I strip electronics from automatic, than it’s NO repair. It’s a downgrade. After all, I bought a fully automatic machine to have one, to get coffee at the push of a button.
            But often the faults are not even electronic. E.g. a leaky water heater (after descaling) you need – and luckily get – some new O-rings. You also get replacement parts like pumps, switches and sensors, sometimes at least used parts.

          1. Which reminds me, I snagged a box of appliance parts that has a couple of turntable motors in and I should grab the Panasonic nuker outa the basement and see if either will fit. I put it down there meaning to order one, but the curb treasure ugly as hell Danby keeps ticking along… (I kinda do that, end up with a couple of each appliance and fix the last one just in time for the temporary replacement breaking… )

        1. Those are called “security screws” , designed to keep fools out of the device.
          MFR’s put them there for a legal reason.
          Microwaves pack more energy than a CRT television. 2KV of AC will fry your butt faster than a 30″ flyback, AC and DC feel different, want details?

      1. my personal favorite approach to opening non-standard screws is to dremel a slot into the screw and use a flat edge screwdriver. of the case gets in the way (in the case of recessed screw holes). the dremel will chew through that too. to reinstall, apply bondo.

    1. I used to work at HP and a line of servers would have the instructions for disassembling the server panels on a large 10″ sticker… inside the server.

      I asked why the instructions for opening the panel were stuck inside the server. On the very panel you needed to open. To which the engineers replied that only repair technicians needed the information to open the panel, it wasn’t intended for the end user…..

      I asked why we were wasting money on that since a service tech already knows how to open the units and my boss wrote me up for questioning a senior employee. I was a lowly assembly worker, what did I know, right?

      A month or so later we were instructed to place the sticker on the *outside* of the server. Guess who got the credit for that brilliant idea? Yeah, it wasn’t me.

  5. At the end of the day, you have the Gates and Jobs types wanting to control what other people do and think through legislating it into a crime. I prefer the attitude of the Woz, who knew someone would want to tinker with the stuff, may brick it, may make a break through instead. It’s good for business to lock this stuff up if all you want to do is make money. But its good for humanity to let the genie out of the bottle. The amount of brain power the hacker/repair community can put towards fixing a problem is amazing, and they want to stop it? who are they fooling?

    1. That was why Jobs had the vision behind Apple and not Woz. Computers were being designed and marketed to tinkerers who cared about swapping memory and Woz wanted to continue that. Jobs realized most people don’t care how it works and don’t want to swap or upgrade– they just want a computer that works out of the box.

  6. As usual when this topic comes up it reaches a fork in the road no matter from where the road began. This began as the right to repair and quickly reached the ease of repair, fork in the road. Like it or not when it comes to the mass production of electronic complements and means of assembling has given us products that aren’t easily worked with manually. We are left with condition where it’s less expensive to for the consumer to purchase a new item, than it is to pay a human a just wage to repair the old item, that is unlikely to change. There is thing I pretty certain we won’t see, that is the people bellyaching about reality, putting their money where their mouth is to change things.

    1. That’s a bit oversimplified.

      Yes there are many electronic parts or assemblies that are not physically or economically repairable; best example is boards with surface-mount equipment. More troublesome is when the product has intellectual property or firmware that the company retains control of, but places a substantial burden on the end user when it comes to repair (eg vehicles or the John Deere tractors).

      I won’t stop progress, but if the manufacturers must make items non-repairable, then they should be making them to last longer, with suitable warranty coverage. In the case of IP, the better arrangement might be a ‘lease’ rather than a sale, and the end user can easily swap the leased part (or the whole unit) when it fails.

      Because the safety, reliability and longevity of a physical product have direct and indirect impact on humans and the environment, this may require government action, if the manufacturers won’t voluntarily make longer-lasting products, or provide adequate warranties.

      1. I’ve seen surface mount boards repaired. I’ve even seen them repaired by people who prefer through-hole and don’t normally work with surface mount. You just have to want it badly enough.

        1. repairing surface mount is easy if you can find replacement cheap parts. but a lot of the time you cant. like if they use a part that was mass produced just for one product and is no longer in production. that tends to happen a lot these days. the number of parts you cant even find a datasheet for is astounding. and it doesnt help that they scrub chips and apply their own markings to throw you off.

  7. The problem with legislating is that it will only happen once the powers see a revenue stream so your right to repair will depend on whether or not you paid some organisation for the right to do it.

    They did it years ago with gas appliances, now there is one for house electrical work. The LPG association tried to make it happen for cars and gas conversions but failed though some insurance companies do insist on a gas certificate from an installer that has paid their dues. They are all bolox. I have taught on the wiring regulation courses in the UK but though I can teach the people that do the work I cannot legally do the work as I haven’t done the course that I taught, that is just plain nuts.

    1. Your assumption about pay to play is backwards. Right to Repair legislation is being pushed by consumers and opposed by manufacturers. Opposition such as Apple, CompTIA (shameful) and CEA have unlimited money to throw around. Legislators need their money to buy advertising for re-election campaigns, but when enough voters – meaning you – demand your right to repair — they don’t need money because they have your vote.

      Best thing you can do is contact your reps — in any state — and make sure they hear your voice instead of Apple.

  8. One should never disconsider competition as a game changer in any trend, either not serviceable items, or drm protection or programmed obsolescence. By competition I mean other countries which may not respect the same laws as ours. Nowadays there is China who build and sell clones of both equipment and parts for almost everything mass produced.

  9. Should be illegal to deny the right to repair. BUT if it has been repaired out of the seller, you have zero right to warranty from the seller. It would be tricky to include a workaround, but I would think Apple denying the TouchID from working is acceptable as well, but I can see that being abused. Should at the very least warn the user, but there’s a chance someone could take your phone, replace the fingerprint, click agree, then wait for you to unlock after booting, then the modded one allows them in.

  10. when I recently bought a new printer the number 1 criteria was that it didn’t have DRM on the toner cartridge. The ‘demo’ cartridge it came with ran out quickly, the official cartridge was $129AUD, the clone one I got (from a company in country, with good reviews) was $23AUD delivered and has been working fine..

    While this isn’t a repair it illustrates the point, that when many manufacturers are moving to the shaver and blades model (by either stopping repairs, or requiring ‘genuine’ parts) it is the consumers that suffer.

  11. I agree. Or else we could start paying with “DRM” money. Send the money in a plastic bag along with a EULA. If the seller opens the bag to take the money, they automatically agree to whatever the terms are of the EULA. Fight back with their own damned tactics.

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