What Does “Right to Repair” Mean, and Why Does It Matter?

right to repair

You may not think of yourself as “handy,” so the thought may not even have crossed your mind to take apart your cell phone or laptop to try and repair it. But did you know that in certain cases it might be illegal for you to even try? There is a debate raging over “right to repair.”

The right to repair issue crosses many products. Car enthusiasts have fought to access parts and guides to repair their vehicles. Farmers are pushing for the right to fix their John Deere agricultural equipment. Now, there are people lobbying for the right to fix laptops, cell phones, and other electronics.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, maintain that doing so risks their intellectual property. There may also be safety risks.

Additionally, they make money from planned obsolescence. Many PC users know what this means already. Anyone on the widely popular Windows 7 operating system had to move to new software in 2020. Microsoft is on a ten-year cycle. It provides a software product its full attention for five years, then it begins offering new options and stops supporting the old one. At the end of the decade, the software is no longer updated or supported. That means no security patches either, which means vulnerability to cyberattack, so users must go to the next version.

Now, you’re not going to build your own operating system, but what about when something goes wrong with your smart phone or tablet? You don’t always want to have to buy a new one. Plus, trading out the old one for a new device runs counter to sustainability goals. You end up with one more piece of hardware destined for the landfill.

Right to Repair Activism

Consumers, repair pros, watchdogs, and green activists have all joined the right to repair debate. They want to be able to upgrade processing power, memory, or battery power in electronics.

But many companies refuse to release the necessary parts (e.g. Apple). Manuals and product guides aren’t made available either. This makes it almost impossible to do-it-yourself repair the company’s products. The consumer must pay the manufacturer for repairs, or they can turn to a third party vendor (affiliated with the manufacturer).

When it comes to technology, the tide may be turning. Why? We are increasingly reliant on our phones and other devices. There’s more push back against a business model that forces us to upgrade every two to four years.

Plus, we’re more aware globally of the value of recycling and up cycling. One American grassroots group notes that repairing tech could bridge the digital divide. PCs for People wants to improve access to technology by rebuilding donated devices. Here in the greater Tucson area, these organizations have similar programs: