Bipartisan FTC Study Confirms Everything 'Right to Repair' Advocates Have Been Saying For Years

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

For years, "right to repair" advocates have been warning about the problems with efforts to monopolize repair. Whether it's Apple's efforts to bully small repair shops, Sony and Microsoft's efforts to monopolize repair of game consoles, or John Deere's implementation of DRM and repair restrictions so onerous customers have to drive a thousand miles and pay a small fortune to repair their own tractors, the impact is rather obvious. And the impact has only been more pronounced during Covid, as hospitals complain about the difficulty in obtaining the documentation and parts necessary to repair ventilators in a timely fashion.

There's of course numerous other problems with making it harder to promptly and inexpensively repair products consumers and companies own, including the environmental impact and waste. Pushed by Congress two years ago to issue a report on the growing problem with repair monopolies, the FTC released a new bipartisan study this week that effectively confirms what "right to repair" reformers have been arguing for years, namely that such onerous and self-serving restrictions harm consumers, innovation, and the planet itself.

Like so many other monopolization issues (broadband comes quickly to mind), the FTC study found that these restrictions often unfairly impact marginalized communities where money is already tight:

"The burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and lower-income communities,” the FTC found. “Many Black-owned small businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries, and difficulties facing small businesses can disproportionately affect small businesses owned by people of color."

Annoyance at this problem has driven bipartisan calls for new right to repair legislation in more than dozen states, as well as a new federal right to repair law. Worried that this could impact revenues, companies have been doing their best to try and smear these reform efforts as some kind of dangerous, leftist cabal, an extreme risk to user privacy and security, a boon to dangerous hackers, or even a massive gift to sexual predators. None of of these things are remotely true, but so far they've been fairly effective at stalling legislative progress in numerous states among legislators who don't understand the subject.

The FTC's report dug through many of these claims, and found that the majority of them simply don't hold water:

"Although manufacturers have offered numerous explanations for their repair restrictions, the majority are not supported by the record,” the FTC said. The agency also noted that industry efforts at self-regulation had fallen well short of solving the problem."

The report also digs through the litany of ways companies try to monopolize repair, whether it's through obnoxious DRM, specific adhesives companies know can't be removed, aggressive tactics on copyright, legal attacks on small third party repair shops, or onerous restrictions on gaining access to documentation and parts. In addition to recommending better stronger state and federal laws, the FTC makes it clear the government could do a lot better job enforcing existing warranty laws, as well as the whole "unfair and deception" aspect of the FTC Act.

While right to repair advocates welcomed the FTC report as confirmation of what they've been saying all along, they were quick to note that acknowledging the problem--and taking substantive steps to fix it--are very different things.

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Filed Under: drm, ftc, innovation, ownership, right to repair


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 12:37pm

    Morally speaking...

    Manufacturers have the right to void a warranty if a third party repairs it. It would be totally unreasonable to force a manufacturer to pay for a problem that may have been caused by someone else. They also shouldn't be held liable for safety issues caused by such third party repairs, which of necessity would be to some degree alterations.

    But that's about it. Outside of being relieved of unreasonable responsibility for repaired goods, the manufacturer should have no say in whether a purchaser and OWNER of a good can have it repaired and who should be able to repair it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 1:11pm

      Re: Morally speaking...

      Manufacturers have the right to void a warranty if a third party repairs it. It would be totally unreasonable to force a manufacturer to pay for a problem that may have been caused by someone else.

      Sure, if the third party actually caused the problem. But the manufacturer shouldn't be able to void a warranty just because someone opened the box and broke the "warranty void if broken" sticker (I seem to recall that actually coming up in court once and the court saying that no, it did not void the warranty, but I don't know if my recollection is correct)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 1:35pm

        Re: Re: Morally speaking...

        If modifications have been made, it becomes unreasonably expensive to assess whether a repair caused a problem. Mind you, most repairs occur after the warranty period has expired, so it's a bit of a moot point. For safety, if the item is unmodified the manufacturer should be liable, but if it has been modified I do think there should be an onus on the state/owner to show that the manufacturer was clearly to blame before they can be dragged into court (or at least, in court the manufacturer should be able to get the case dismissed at a very early stage if no such responsibility can be demonstrated). It just isn't fair to make a person or company hostage to the actions of others that they can't control. If you want to make manufacturers responsible or to spend the effort and coin to prove that they aren't, it isn't unreasonable for manufacturers to try to prevent third party repairs. I prefer owners to actually own their purchases, but with rights come responsibilities.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 1:21pm

      Re: Morally speaking...

      Part right and wrong.
      Repair people Dont want the liability and generally, If they have the documentation do a VERY good job. they also TRY to fix that failing part with a better one. Go around and ask your friends about Major appliances, Failing, and the cost to get repaired by the makers, because it was a computer CIRCUIT BOARD inside. Or the Display failed and the whole thig stopped because of a failed Lighted display.

      The Opening the case thing, is correct, its NOT against the warranty. this came around because of internal Fuses, WHICH ARE A GOOD THING. But currently those fuses are integrated as resisters. And you will have to look ALL ove rthe board and test everything to FIND IT. only because there is no Documentation of WHERE THEY ARE.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 10:56am

      Re: Morally speaking...

      Manufacturers have the right to void a warranty if a third party repairs it.

      You can define morality however you want. Legally, though, they do not have a right to do that in the USA, unless they provide the repairs/parts for free; see the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act:
      Generally, tie-in sales provisions aren’t allowed. These are provisions that state or imply that a consumer must buy or use an item or service from a particular company to keep their warranty coverage. Here are some examples of prohibited tie-in sales provisions: … “This limited warranty shall not apply if the warranty seal has been broken, removed, erased, defaced, altered, or is otherwise illegible,” where a device cannot be repaired without such effects.

      It would be totally unreasonable to force a manufacturer to pay for a problem that may have been caused by someone else.

      "May have" is not good enough. They can only deny the claim if they reasonably believe the damage was caused by someone else.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 12:39pm

    "The agency also noted that industry efforts at self-regulation had fallen well short of solving the problem."

    Foxes unable to explain why their efforts to protect hen house seem to have fallen short.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 12:41pm

    One further issue in monopolizing repair is adding tech that has no point other than to make it hard for an owner or third party to repair, and to endlessly collect data, frequently creating persistent privacy and security risks as well. The auto industry comes to mind, among others.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 1:25pm

      Re:

      One further issue in monopolizing repair is adding tech that has no point other than to make it hard for an owner or third party to repair, and to endlessly collect data, frequently creating persistent privacy and security risks as well.

      Such is the test of actual ownership. I.e. "Can you defend it from others?" The companies sure can, consumers not so much.

      However, the monopolization of repair and persistent consumer privacy / safety violations are both symptoms of that larger issue of ownership. One does not cause the other. You can have 3rd party repair shops in abundance, with dirt cheap and easy to get parts / documentation, and still have the privacy and security violations. Indeed, those violations existed well before the likes of John Deere and others got wind that they could prevent repairs to boost their profits.

      If you want fix both problems, you'll need to attack the root of the issue: "You don't own what you purchase."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 13 May 2021 @ 3:22pm

    "Can we repair our way out of an environmental crisis?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 16 May 2021 @ 3:50am

    Ever try to buy soft serve ice cream at McD's?

    First, I don't buy anything from McDonald's - I hate it. However, I have tried to fetch a cone of ice cream for wife, i'm 0 for 3 tries.

    Well, it seams there is a kinda DRM thing called -secret menu + outrages tech support contract mandate that is nothing more than a cash cow secret code a tech enters.

    That is the start - Wired has long read with all the info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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