Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. The people have spoken, and they want their phones to last. And across the nation, elected officials are proposing a type of legislation that would give consumers more power to fix their devices as they age or are damaged. Over the past two years, these "right to repair" bills have gained popularity. This week, California joined the list, bringing the number of states with proposed legislation to 18.
Third-party repair stores are a common option if you drop or break your smartphone, but Apple is reportedly not a fan of these alternative repair options. Apple is one of several high-profile companies that have been lobbying against a New York state bill that would make it easier to independent stores and users to repair devices. According to Motherboard, the Fair Repair Act would have companies sell replacement parts and tools to everyone, bans software locks that would limit repairs and, in some cases, have companies provide repair guides publicly. However, Apple and other companies have come out aggressively against the proposed legislation. Along with Apple, other companies who have lobbied against the Fair Repair Act include Toyota, Caterpillar and Verizon.
The Librarian of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office have granted American consumers and gadget repair shops greater freedom to fix their smartphones and other popular electronics in what "right-to-repair" advocates are calling a major victory. In a new ruling that will take effect on Sunday, the Librarian of Congress has carved out a series of exemptions that allow people to legally circumvent digital "locks" on devices they own, such as voice assistants, tablets, smartphones and vehicles, to repair them. Motherboard earlier reported on the ruling. Device manufactures currently use digital protection measures to safeguard their intellectual property. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made it unlawful to circumvent technological measures used to prevent the piracy of copyrighted books, movies, video games and computer software.
Apple is planning to oppose a "Right to Repair" legislation introduced last month in the Nebraska legislature, Motherboard reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed source within the legislature. The bill for the Fair Repair Act is aimed at ending the manufacturers' aftermarket monopoly, wherein only authorized service providers are allowed to carry out repairs. However, the right to repair movement, which has also gained cachet in the states of Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, Wyoming, Illinois and Tennessee -- has faced vehement opposition not just from Apple, but also from tractor manufacturer John Deere. The company argued in 2015 that allowing people to tinker with their software -- even if it's for the purpose of repair -- would "make it possible for pirates, third-party software developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software designed by leading vehicle manufacturers." When the Nebraska bill is tabled for a hearing on March 9, Apple -- which has successfully lobbied against similar bills in other states -- is expected to argue, among other things, that allowing customers or independent mechanics to repair their own phones could cause the devices' lithium-ion batteries to catch fire.
Michael Oberdick owns two small gadget repair shops in northwestern Ohio. He and his technicians spend their days at iOutlet replacing busted screens, repairing battered motherboards, and generally making life easier for people who've done something stupid with their gadgets. He found this job far easier just five years ago, when he started repairing phones for friends. Back then, anyone with basic tools, a little patience, and an instruction manual could fix just about anything. But these days, performing all but the most basic repairs requires specialized tools and knowledge that companies like Apple and Samsung guard jealously.