Communities

Meet the Activists Fighting for Your Right to Fix Anything

by Bo Suh

February 4, 2016
Photo via Flickr user William Warby

If you’ve ever tried to repair, well, any piece of technology, you know how frustrating it can be. With multinational corporations dominating the manufacturing industry, it can be difficult to find or afford the right parts to fix anything from a smartphone to a heart monitor, even with the help of a technician. But the people behind the Repair Association, a new advocacy group fighting for the “right to repair everything,” are hoping to change that.

Formerly known as the Right to Repair Coalition, the Repair Association is an organization of industry members who want to give individuals and local businesses access to the materials required to fix any kind of technological appliance. Consisting of companies and groups like iFixit, Fixers’ Collective, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the association is pushing for state-level legislation that would require manufacturers to sell repair parts and provide information on how to fix a product independently.

“A free, independent market for repair and reuse is more efficient, more competitive, and better for consumers,” the association writes on its website. “Repair helps create local jobs, and repair and reuse benefits the environment by reducing end-of-life electronic products.”

On the federal level, the association focuses on amending the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to address the demands of a growing self-taught consumer base. That’s the kind of work that iFixit does: In addition to selling repair parts, the company provides free online guides to help individuals fix their appliances on their own.

But because of Section 1201 of the DMCA’s “anti-circumvention” provision, individuals are unable to tamper with technology that uses copyrighted software. While exceptions have been made, such as unlocked smartphones, these have to be renewed every three years through an arduous legal process.

“Under U.S. copyright law, you’re not allowed to modify protected software or look at it—even for the purpose of repair,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, tells GOOD. “Manufacturers are using other parts of copyright law to restrict outside access to service manuals, schematics, and repair instructions. They are developing an unfair monopoly over the aftermarket of their goods.”

This monopoly comes backed by an army of lawyers and lobbyists, says Wiens, which is why the Repair Association is needed—to serve as an umbrella organization representing individual repairmen and women, local businesses, and everyday consumers.

“We aren’t just fighting for your right to repair smartphones and computers—we are fighting for your right to repair everything,” Wiens says.

 

Full disclosure: Kyle Wiens has contributed to GOOD in the past. 

Correction: The headline of this article originally referred to the Right to Repair Coalition as "lobbyists." 

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Meet the Activists Fighting for Your Right to Fix Anything