Make It Work

Right to Repair activists vs Big Tech on who’s “qualified” to service proprietary products.

If you bought something, it’s yours and you should be able to fix it, right? Not always. More and more, devices come embedded with software. From phones to cars to farm equipment, technology is helping devices work better and smarter.

It’s great while it lasts, but what happens if it stops working? Good luck finding a repair shop able or willing to tackle your ticket. Even if you’re a mechanical sort who might actually fix the darn thing, you likely will have trouble finding the right tools and repair manuals. What’s the deal? Copyright terms.

You may have purchased your device, but you often don’t own the software in it — it’s technically licensed. And that license (aka the “End User License Agreement”) often implies (unlawful) restrictions on your ability to repair or tinker with your device. These manufacturers refuse to publish crucial repair information (including the manuals themselves) — and they’ll sue anyone who tries to publish this information privately.

The results of these “copyright lockdowns” are predictable: 1. users feel they have no choice but to go to an “authorized” repair location (like the Apple store) where they pay top dollar for the simplest fixes, rather than doing it themselves; 2. independent repair shops are driven out of business; and 3. electronic waste increases because users don’t have a way to repair their devices.

While the right to repair is wildly popular among consumers, Big Corporate is not so enamored. Familiar names like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and other specialists in planned obsolescence are throwing lobbyist dollars towards shutting down legislative efforts across the country. They claim “untrained” repairs can compromise their products’ safety, privacy and security – an argument that failed 10 years ago when the auto industry tried to monopolize tools/info needed to work on new parts and systems being installed (which would’ve cut off significant business for independent shops).

No fair! Thankfully, push back from consumers & small businesses fed up with the status quo has fueled a nationwide “Right to Repair” movement, with more than 25 states having introduced legislation in the last decade or so.

In PA, a bill was introduced last month by Senator Elder A. Vogel, Jr. (Republican chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee) and Sen. Judith L. Schwank, (the ranking Democrat) to codify repair rights. The “Right to Repair” legislation would:

…require original equipment manufacturers of electronics and appliances that contain embedded software (i.e. phones, washers, dryers, refrigerators, televisions, laptops, hospital equipment, tractors, etc.) to make available to consumers and independent repair shops the information and parts they need to repair those devices and fully disclose any contract provision standing in the way of full repair and reuse.

The knowledge and tools to repair and refurbish products should be distributed as widely and freely as the products themselves.

Product owners deserve the right to repair their products or have them serviced at the independent repair facility or small business of their choice.

Consumer and small business advocates agree: it should be up to the individual to decide who repairs their personal property. Furthermore, it’s an environmental necessity that we slow down the onslaught of electronic waste poisoning soil and groundwater, imperiling life around the globe. Right to Repair is a win-win situation for everyone except billion dollar companies profiting from exploitive loopholes.

JOIN THE FIGHT!

Visit pennsylvania.repair.org for local connections and action steps. For the latest national news and federal proposals, please see repair.org. Locally, Philly Fixers Guild will help you save your broken things, and advise on care and maintenance moving forward. A recent WHYY article highlighted this unique community service, which has been hosting free, regular “Repair Fairs” in North Philly/Kensington, where guests bring all sorts of items for repair: clothes, electronics, lamps, clocks, vintage turntables, even family heirlooms. “Anything that can be carried in the door,” said Ben Davis, a co-founder of the Fixers Guild.

The repair process is a unique collaboration between guests and Guild volunteers, who share their time, expertise and often even their tools to help get a job done. “All of their volunteers are really enthusiastic and dedicated to not only fixing, but also working with you to fix that item so you get to learn and see how they do it as well,” said Melissa Guglielmo, the location manager at the North Philly NextFab center (who provides space for the Guild’s Repair Fairs).

The Philly Fixers Guild Repair Fair is open to anyone with an item in need of fixing. Slots are limited and registration is required. Go to phillyfixersguild.org for details, follow on Facebook for notifications. NEXT REPAIR FAIR IS MAR 9th (6PM – 8PM) — sign up thru the page to get help or volunteer.

NextFab North Philadelphia
1800 N. American Street
Studios & marketspace for a robust creative community
Classes, rentals, events. Convenient to public transportation.
216-921-3649
info@nextfab.com

LEARN MORE! Elizabeth Estrada’s excellent WHYY piece, “Don’t Throw Away That Broken Item. A Coalition of Philly Volunteers Will Help You Fix It,” includes real neighborhood voices from a recent Repair Fair.

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