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This month, we welcomed back Aaron Perzanowski to talk about his new book, The Right to Repair: Reclaiming the Things We Own. In the book, he explores how we got to this point of companies weaponising the law to make repair inaccessible and how legal reform can help. We discuss the developments in the technological and legal landscape that pushed him to revisit the topic of repair.
What we lose with ‘centralised’ repair
Perzanowski’s writing on ‘communities of common interest’ will particularly resonate with the Restart community. He explains the multiple ways that authorised repair systems negatively impact consumers. They not only make it more practically difficult to repair our things but also strip learning opportunities from us. It reminds us of what is so important about coming together at repair events to fix collaboratively.
And it’s not just independent repairers or the environment that gets damaged by such restrictive repair. The last time we spoke to Perzanowski, we considered how authorised repair could affect us during the pandemic. We question whether we learned from the experiences of the last two years and how correct we were. What has really been exposed, he says, is the fragility of these centralised systems.
“That’s the big lesson in repair generally, right? We have to be prepared for things to go wrong. And too often, our systems right now simply are not ready or willing to anticipate the sort of inevitable disruptions that make repair necessary in the first place.”
Weaponising vs. reforming the law
We’re curious to know how it can be possible that repair is so controlled. Perzanowski explains the different laws that have allowed manufacturers to limit independent repair so greatly. He cites the use of software locks and digital patents as two of the most pressing issues in this space. We’ve heard first-hand that software locks and part serialisation are affecting many independent repairers and that we talk to.
Repairers know all too well how disheartening it can be to see the law be used to block repair. But there is hope. Perzanowski shares some ways in which the law can actually be used to protect repair and what changes can be made. Some of this framework is already in place but he believes that the long-term approach we take needs major reform.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission in the US took steps toward supporting the Right to Repair. They also plan on enforcing existing rules more aggressively. But Perzanowski says we need bolder and more innovative action. We discuss how we can use both competition and consumer rights laws to tackle the issues of centralised repair. There is a strong case for barring companies like Apple from claiming to repair devices when this is far from the truth. He learned from personal experience that what Apple claims to be ‘repair’ is really just selling customers a refurbished device as a replacement.
When comparing governing styles, Perzanowski notes the difference in approaches between the EU and the US in their willingness to directly regulate manufacturers. He believes that the EU will lead the way on this issue – hopefully, creating a domino effect that influences global markets.
A non-partisan issue
One of the biggest glimmers of hope is the overwhelming public support for Right to Repair. According to research that Perzanowski undertook for his book – as well as polling conducted by Restart – R2R is a cause that crosses partisan boundaries, unlike other issues. He praises the work that R2R advocates have been doing in the US and believes that state-level change is a good starting point. Hopefully, putting pressure on major manufacturers will work hand in hand to create change.
- The Right to Repair: Reclaiming the Things We Own
- Restart Podcast Ep. 51: Copyright law, ownership and crisis with Aaron Perzanowski
- U.S. PIRG: Hospital technicians renew urgent call for Right to Repair medical equipment
[Feature image courtesy of Aaron Perzanowski]