The importance of the new Right to Repair laws in 2021

Right to Repair laws

Imagine your love for dogs cost you 4500 bucks on the first day! Shocking isn’t it and unaffordable. I remember the first time I bought a dog home; it was a small puppy of one and a half months. It was as observant and curious as a top NIA officer would be, just like Ajit Dobhal. It was a bunch of constant curiosity, licking and sniffing anything and everything that it would encounter, be it a twig or a leaf. It was this NIA officer instinct of biting everything suspended that cost me Rs. 4500.

The dog chewed on the charger and wire of my iPad. If anyone of you has used Apple products, you know how costly the repairing charges are. If a person cracks the screen of his iPhone, the iPhone is not repaired; it is forgotten and buried like a bad dream or unrequited love. Because the cost of repairing that broken iPhone is equal to buying a brand new smartphone! Outrageous, isn’t it!

And it is not just the case with Apple. It is a similar scenario all over the world. Whenever a consumer buys an electronic gadget, he is sure that the gadget will become obsolete within two years tops. Because the manufacturer keeps on floating newer, shinier and sleeker versions of the same device, we all have used Samsung’s mobile phones; in the past, they were notorious for being as slow as a sloth. If a phone hangs mid-operation, it was carelessly named Samsung. Samsung‘s phone and hanging mid-operation is jokingly equated.

After some time, these phones become impossible to use, and a consumer is left with no choice but to buy a new phone. The idea of repair has been strategically wiped out of consumer’s minds that they cannot think of repairing their phones like swiping semiconductors, processors chips, et cetera. And even if a consumer dares to go to a repair shop and demand its rightful repair, the repairs are inaccessible due to unfair terms and conditions. The repair is very costly, like Apple. The manufacturers also dictate who will repair their gadgets and products by encrypting and encoding the devices, thereby making repair impossible.Right to repair

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This theme of making repair accessible has gathered momentum globally in the name of the right to repair movement. Countries around the world have been trying to pass legislation to implement the right to repair. If the right to repair laws is enforced, manufacturers will face tremendous loss, and logically they fought tooth and nail like a soldier to oppose these laws. In the name of privacy, wrongful access to technology and copyright violations, manufacturers like Apple, Tesla and Microsoft have been lobbying against these laws.

US president Joe Biden has clearly stated in words and actions that he is against big tech firms and their unfair and monopoly practices, which harms competition. The appointment of Lina Khan as US Federal Trust Chair, the appointment of Tim Wu at the National Economics Council is one such action– both Khan and Wu are big tech critics. Big tech firms, mainly Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, are under fire from competition commissions across the globe.

Every now and then, we see a report or a lawsuit has been filed against these big tech firms for violating competition and free trade. Britain, Germany, France, European Union, America, India are one of the few countries that have filed lawsuits against big tech firms in their competition commission offices. Recent executive order on scrutiny of big tech firms’ working signed by US president Joe Biden has hammered the final nail in the coffin. President Biden said Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism.

Right to repair

Its exploitation. President Biden on Friday signed another executive order which removes restrictions imposed by the manufacturers on the repair of gadgets. The manufacturers from now cannot dictate how, where and when a consumer can opt for the restoration of electronic gadgets. The United Kingdom has also introduced right to repair rules which eases restrictions on the repair of gadgets like TV, washing machines, fridge, cell phones et cetera. In short, if you break your Samsung or iPhone, you no longer have to worry about gargantuan repairing costs.

What is right to repair movement?

This movement traces its roots back to the 1950s when the computer era had just begun. If a person wishes to repair their broken iPhone, the local repair guy cannot crack the encryption; hence repair becomes inaccessible. This movement aims to persuade manufacturers to produce spare parts and tools, provide information and expertise on how to repair devices to local repair boys. This increases the device’s lifespan, saves consumers money and reduces e-waste, which is another issue.

If everything right from sale to repair of a product is being done by the manufacturer, job opportunities and livelihood opportunities for the local businesses are jeopardised. It increases income inequality where the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Increased inequality leads to crowded slums overpopulated metros like Mumbai and Bangalore because local businesses cannot sustain in towns due to monopoly. With the right to repair movement, local businesses, mainly the repairing sector, will record hikes, and people can find livelihood opportunities in their hometown.  

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What is planned obsolescence?

Strategic manufacturing of gadgets so that they are usable only for a limited amount of time is planned obsolescence. Examples of designed obsolescence irreplacable batteries of the oximeter, non-refillable ink cartridge of printers, limited life of lightbulbs, marginally modified textbooks, new fashion trends, et cetera. Even if the gadget works more than planned years, newer and shinier versions of the same gadgets are introduced in the market to lure consumers. Governments can legislate on the right to repair it, but they cannot legislate on the right to buy shiny products. After all, the heart wants what it wants!

This planned obsolescence leads to increased environmental issues like piles of e-waste, heat-trapping emissions, pollution etc. Manufacturing an electronic device is a pollution prone process that uses silicon, fossil fuels et cetera. The raw material used to manufacture an iPhone represents 83% of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere in its lifetime. Manufacturing a washing machine emits 57% of heat-trapping emissions in its lifetime. If the right to repair is judiciously implemented, it will reduce the environmental impact of gadgets. Always remember that we have not inherited this earth from our forefathers we have borrowed it from our grandchildren.

What are the dynamics of the right to repair in India?

As of now, there is no right to repair movement gathering momentum in India, but according to the Copyright Act of 1952, planned obsolescence is legal in India. The copyright owner of software can decide whether his software can be copied or modified. It is also known as digital management rights DRM. Manufacturers can stop the repair of the product if it uses their software with the help of DRM; the DRM penalises modification of software. In short, be ready to shed loads of cash because if your refrigerator is broken, only the manufacturer can repair it thanks to the DRM.

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After passing of right to repair laws in European Union and the US, India, while making its laws have to make sure- 

The copyright holder cannot dictate the software usage; the user should be free to study and modify the software, sharing of modified copies of software should be legal, and the user should be free to distribute copies of software. Checks and balances are to be established so that copyrights are not violated and software are not locked for unnecessary purposes simultaneously. It’s important given the shift towards the internet of things IOT, where software is, will be the blood and flesh of gadgets.

Aishwarya Ingle

I am a person who believes in freedom of human mind. A free mind is highly creative and imaginative. Imagination is not a cloth that is to neatly folded in a box, but it is fire. It can light an entire jungle or a single matchstick, it depends upon the free environment.

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