Recently, electronic giant, Apple announced that it would begin selling the parts, tools and instructions for customers to repair their own iPhones. The iPhone maker is announcing ‘Self-Service-Repair’, in which knowledgeable customers can complete their own repairs with access to original parts, tools, and manuals. This is important even if you don’t have an Apple device since the move opens doors for other companies to do the same.
What is the right to repair?
The right to repair electronic devices such as smartphones and computers, refers to the concept of allowing end-users or consumers as well as businesses to repair electronic devices they own or service without restrictions imposed by manufacturers. The idea behind the concept is to render electronics easier and cheaper to repair with the aim of prolonging the lifecycle of e-devices and also reducing waste stream caused by broken or unused devices. In the recent time, due to complex way of designing and software locks, electronics have become more difficult to fix. As such, ‘right to repair’ is right to fix or set right the fault in anything you own or get it fixed or repaired by someone who can do it, instead of taking the device for repair to the company which sold it to you.
Two reasons why it matters
(1) The first reason is to promote right to repair is that the manufacturing companies, especially technical firms tend to overprice replacement parts to consumers for product and to encourage them to buy a new gadget rather than to fix their old ones. Consumers given no choice are compelled to buy a new part. It is estimated that more than half of the population of the western world has one or more used or broken electronic devices at home that are not repaired due to unaffordable repair cost. The right to repair movement tries to address these issues by proposing legislation obligating manufacturers to allow access to spare parts and repair tools at fair market prices and design devices in a manner that allows easy repair with the objective of preferring repair over replacement.
(2) The second reason is that such a practice adopted by manufacturers not only hits the wallet of the consumer but also creates environment issues since mountains of e-waste have become a big environment challenge before the nations, India being no exception.
What the digital repair movement wants?
(a) The digital repair movement wants to publicly make information available about manuals, software update and schematics.
(b) It aims to make original tools and parts of the device available for individual sale.
(c) It permits the user of the device to unlock or modify the software of a device.
(d) As a long term objective, the manufacturer will allow the designs for repairs.
Countries that have taken some action
The Federal Trade Commission of United States has recently announced that it would ramp up action against tech companies who are making it difficult for users to repair devices. This has led some tech companies falling in line.
Microsoft for example has agreed to expand its repair options and incorporate repairability into their design. The British government introduced ‘Right to Repair’ law that went into effect on July 1,2021. The rules pertaining to right-to-repair have been introduced to legally bind manufacturers to make spare parts available to users but the order is restricted to electrical appliances and not for the entire e-gadgets. The law gave companies a two-year grace period to come into compliance. In Europe, similar laws have been made mandating appliances repairable up to 10 years. the trend of making one’s repairs to devices spread from east into Western Europe in 2010s. In July 2017, the European Parliament approved that member states should pass laws that give consumers the right to repair their electronics.
In India, it is estimated that 3.23 million metric tonnes per year e-waste is generated, making it the third largest dumping country globally. Despite this fact, India has no legislation that gives consumers right to repair. Some consumers avail the services of intrepid repair shops but that is not the way out.
The background: The right to repair concept has generally come from the United States. The earliest known published reference using the phrase comes from the auto-industry dating back to 2003, followed by subsequent efforts by US Congress to pass legislation. The automotive industry , Massachusetts passed the United States’ first Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act in 2012, according to which it became mandatory for automobile manufacturers to sell the same service materials and diagnostics directly to consumers or to independent mechanics, similar to fashion they provide exclusively to their dealers.
In the year 2013, the Digital Rights to Repair Coalition, also known as The Repair Association was officially founded, using website: repair.org, in New Jersey. The aim of the coalition was to support the aftermarket for technology products by way of voicing for repair-friendly laws, standards, regulations and policies. It’s members are engaged in repairs, resale, refurbishment, reconfiguration and recycling regardless of industry.
Members of the Coalition Advisory Board (https://www. repair.org/aboutus) include industry experts in repair, cyber-security, copyright law, medicine, agriculture, international trade, consumer rights, contracts, e-waste, eco-design standards, software engineering and legislative advocacy.
Dr Surat Singh, Harvard and Oxford educated Supreme Court and international lawyer, welcoming the move by world famous Apple phones of supplying parts for repairs, said, “ The greatest challenge by these big multinational companies is how to ensure fair treatment to customers. These companies are so big that they dictate their own rules. They enjoy the monopoly in their given products. If the spare parts are not available, one cannot enjoy the product to its fullest capacity. So the right to repair is the right which can be demanded by consumers to be provided to them as and when needed. There should be a right to repair. It is the right that a free market should provide that is why antitrust laws are available in countries like the USA and Competition Laws are there in India. In fact ,if a company insists on getting the repair done at their own workshops only ,it will amount to unfair trade practice and tying arrangements. Unfair trade practises and tying arrangements are not permitted under Competition Laws. In fact, Competition Commission of India (CCI) passed an order imposing heavy cost on big companies for their unfair trade practises of compelling consumers to get their repairs done only from those companies’ workshops and from nowhere else. Such practises are not fair to the customers and are prohibited in law.”
“It matters a lot whether you have a right to repair or not. For example, if I can get my Mercedes repaired in Mercedes workshop as they are charging 2,00,000 rupees for a part, whereas the same part of Mercedes can be made available for 50,000 rupees in the open market and I can get it fixed by paying 5,000 to a mechanic. As a consumer, why should I be compelled to shell out 2,00,000 rupees?”, questioned Dr Surat Singh.
The learned lawyer further said, “As I said before, in modern capitalist society, big multinational companies like Apple, Google, Tesla, Coca Cola, Facebook, Microsoft enjoy much more power than many States. In the 18th century the danger to individual freedom was from kings, today the danger to individual freedom and fundamental right to fairness come more from multinational companies. The task of law is to empower individuals and institutions against overarching from any powerful challengers, whether they are kings or companies. If the company has the right to earn profit, individuals have the right to fair treatment . ‘Right to Repair’ is a part of that fundamental right of fair treatment.
Wing Commander S. K. Sharma, a high profile retired officer from Indian Air Force and an Author said, “In fact, ‘Right to Repair’ campaign is to give every consumer and small business access to the parts, tools and service information they need to repair products so that we can keep things in use and reduce waste. It will allow a customer to repair his instrument, on his own. What the manufacturing companies are apprehending is: If we give customers the right to repair, then they will replace genuine parts with fake ones and try to find shortcuts by getting cheaper products – which can be dangerous especially in the likes of Tesla motors who brought this technology after an intensive research. For customers on the other hand, it is also important to get companies to actually create products that can be repaired so that even a third-party, an independent repair shop can accomplish the task at much reduced cost for the buyer.”
Sharma further said, “It matters because you own the product and should be allowed to repair it. You own the product and have paid for it. Besides, this right is environment friendly. People can continue using the products that they bought for longer usage, and not have to throw them away just because a part goes bad. On the other side, millions of people can buy cheaper products from others, get them repaired and use them, instead of the product getting thrown away, creating unnecessary urban e-waste.”
Giving the legal maintainability on ‘right to repair’ Sharma said, “The government should legislate the issue as it will give more independence and control to the consumer as there is reservation from manufacturers who want to remain in control of the products they manufacture, and compel people to buy more products with greater frequency.”
Wing Commander Sharma, giving brief background of the concept matter said, “On November 17, 2021, Apple announced ‘Self-Service-Repair’, which will allow customers access to Apple genuine parts and tools. This programme was supposed to start in early 2022 and will be available first to i-phone 12 and 13 followed by Mac computers featuring M1 chips. It is a great start as it saves the environment and has the potential to pull millions of people out of the throw-away economy. People can refurbish and use old phones. The fact that Apple has started it is great. Apple is one of the world’s biggest consumer facing companies. However, Apple’s repair programme is restrictive, covers very few parts and devices – battery screen and camera. But it is a start and should have a ripple effect across the tech world.”
“There are two sides to the right to repair. Companies’ argument against right to repair – People should be safe – is also a perfectly reasonable argument to make. Also, as technology gets better, its getting more integrated and less repairable. But the right to repair is a step in the right direction as it is consumer-friendly, and this is the direction in which more companies should move”, Sharma concluded.
Neeleshwar Pavani, an erudite Supreme Court lawyer, feels, “Apple is the biggest tech-giant in the world, its consumer base has increased manifold ever since it launched its iPhones a little over a decade and a half earlier and has been the prime preference of people for its simple user-friendly interface. The company has acquired a reputation for innovation and novelty, which is one of the reasons for its unparalleled success in the tech-industry. It has over time used its brand name for creating a monopoly over its contemporary tech companies and has with each years’ growing success increased the prices of its phones along with trimming down the period of warranty, almost stopped giving accessories such as chargers and earphones and despite having started manufacturing iPhones in India has not slashed its market price.”
“The ‘Right to Repair’ which was lately announced by the tech-giant is therefore pivotal in this front which allows users to repair their own devices after getting replacement parts from a service centres. The right to repair one’s own iPhone could be seen as a message from the company that the phone itself is highly user-friendly and simple to manage to the extent that any person with rudimentary know-how of the mechanics of a phone can set it right without going to an Apple Service Centre. They intend to make it possible by providing a manual categorizing different parts of the phone which will serve as a guide to the user.”
“Apple’s Right to Repair is of no consequence to India at this point of time as the company is considering to kickstart the programme first in the United States in the first quarter of 2022. It would be premature to say that this facility would be extended to India and its base of i-phone users since the manufacturing by the company in India (Chennai) has begun in full force only in September 2020 and India still imports Apple products from abroad which in other words means that the production capacity is lesser than the demand in the Indian market. India is still far from having this facility of self-repairing one’s devices.”
Pavani further said, “There would be no problem for this policy to be legally maintainable subject to Apple drastically changing the terms and conditions of the use of iPhones.
“My view of this new policy is that it projects to be a good endeavour by making the option available to its customers to self-repair their phone and spend extra money for the services of a technician. In my view, this is also a policy that many people won’t be utilizing or following when their phones give them trouble due to reasons of not being adept with technology and for saving more time. It is a smart move on Apple’s part to demonstrate that they are not solely a profit-driven organization that charges money for the smallest of changes and it also would disclaim any liability if a person who repairs their product unsuccessfully, which would leave the consumer with the only option of either getting it fixed from the service centre or buy a new phone”, concluded Pavani.
Despite the announcement of this programme, Apple recommends that most customers should still visit a professional repair provider and those certified technicians who use genuine Apple parts are the “safest and most reliable way to get a repair”. Self Service Repair will be available in the US in early 2022, and will eventually be expanding to more countries later in the year.
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