Does the idea of fixing your own iPhone appeal to you? It surely gives a sense of achievement and pleasure. But are you ready for the consequences?
So, is it illegal to repair your own phone? The simple answer is; No, it is not illegal to repair your own phone, the main risk is that you might void your product warranty and manufacturers will most likely refuse to sell you the spare parts required to fix the phone yourself.
The United States has been having a heated debate on whether you should be able to repair your device yourself or in a local repair shop and not in the manufacturer’s store. Here’s everything you need to know.
While you’re at it, become a more educated consumer using our guides on Tesla, Upwork and frealncer.com disputes, AirBnB, and Amazon disputes. You may also want to read more about small courts and ADR providers such as JAMS ADR in the USA, where you might take a stance against some of these companies.
What is a right to repair law?
The right-to-repair refers to consumers’ right to choose who, when, and where to repair consumer electronics and machinery. This means that they can choose to repair them by themselves or in a local repair shop and have access to the necessary tools and information to do so.
But there isn’t a law that prevents users from self-repairing their devices, so people already have the right to repair, right?
Technically, yes. Everyone can repair their devices. However, they will not be able to get authentic parts, the necessary tools, and software without the permission of the manufacturing company.
Therefore, people’s choices are actively restricted by the manufacturing companies. These companies believe that any repair and refurbishing should be done under their supervision and authority.
Companies, such as Apple, use End User Agreements (EUAs) to force customers to only repair their phones in one of their authorized stores and businesses. They also restrict their access to the right tools, replacement parts, and the necessary information to carry out an appropriate repair.
For example, Apple has historically prevented its users from self-repairing or replacing their screens, batteries, cameras, and more. This self-repair can void Apple’s warranty or End User Contracts.
Ultimately, making phone repairs exclusive to the manufacturing company eliminates competition and hinders people’s ability to get faster and cheaper repairs.
Advocates of the right-to-repair led by The Repair Association have managed to introduce the right to repair bill in almost every state in the US. There’s currently an active right to repair bill in at least 30 US states the goal of which is the availability of the manufacturers’ repair information.
The Right to Repair Discussion: Arguments for and against
People, independent repair businesses, and many associations are leading the right to repair movement and are challenging top tech companies such as Apple who is actively trying to undermine this endeavor.
Arguments For Right to Repair
According to The Repair Association, the right to repair is how independent repair technicians can maintain their jobs against monopolistic corporations.
“Integrated electronics are making it harder to fix things. And manufacturers keep restricting access to service documentation, parts, and software—which forces consumers into more expensive ‘manufacturer-authorized’ repairs and drives small repair shops out of business.”Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit.com
The right-to-repair movement’s major argument is that the manufacturer has no rights over a sold item. If you own a device, you can do whatever you want with it.
Without the right to repair, believe the supporters, giant tech companies continue to restrict people’s ownership of the devices they actually purchased.
For example, with the introduction of Apple’s iPhone 13, Apple introduced a new law: the display must be replaced by Apple, or the Face ID feature will be disabled. This means that display replacements by independent repair businesses, even if genuine, are not allowed unless you’re ready to give up your device’s security.
This is not Apple’s first incident of making repairs exclusive to itself. In fact “Apple, by design or neglect or both, is making it extremely hard to repair an iPhone without their blessing.” According to Kevin Purdy from iFixit.
Beyond just being able to save a few bucks by repairing your own device yourself, repair, instead of tossing and buying a new one, can reduce our electronic waste enormously. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, “We shouldn’t be recycling usable technology, we should be reusing it. That’s far better for the environment.”
Essentially, the right to repair advocates are mobilizing against these corporate practices. While other industries such as agricultural machinery have already benefited from the right to repair laws, consumer electronics is facing severe opposition from tech giants.
The gist of their argument is to make information, replacement parts, and tools available for everyone, allowing device unlocking, and using designs that are repairable.
Arguments Anti Right to Repair
Corporations and their lobbyists are the major opponents of the right to repair bill. Their arguments range from repair difficulties to public safety.
With new technologies and designs come increasing difficulty of repair. For this reason, allegedly, Apple demands that all their devices must be repaired by them or their authorized centers because they have taken the necessary training and adhere to their agreements.
Apple also argues that without the proper training and knowledge, a repair could result in irreversible damage.
Moreover, the company has used public safety recurrently as an argument against the right to repair bills. In 2019, it claimed that self-repair can be a health hazard especially if its lithium-ion batteries are concerned.
Moreover, if a user undertook a self-repair and ended up ruining it, they cannot reach out to Apple for help. That’s because warranties don’t cover self-repaired parts.
According to Mike Wuerthele from Appleinsider, the right to repair’s main challenge is its broad and vague definition. Most corporations targeted by The Repair Association, such as Apple, Microsoft, and Sony, use this to their advantage.
Major Lobbyists against the Right to Repair
Apple has always been the primary target of the right to repair movement in the consumer electronics industry. It has also been their worst opponent and the “naughty” one according to Washington democrat Mia Gregerson, who was the sponsor of the right to repair bill in early 2021. Other giants join Apple’s efforts and attempts to block the right to repair bills including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google.
Apple fought the right to repair bill in Washington by arguing that it will launch a repair program at local colleges if the bill was to be dismissed.
It has also used arguments of copyright and intellectual property, public safety, and device damage on multiple occasions.
In 2018, an Apple lobbyist fought against New York’s right to repair bill and successfully underlined it by arguing that the bill would make any internet-connected device an easy prey for hackers. They also argued that it would force tech companies to disclose sensitive information.
Another plan to block the bill is Apple’s launch of the worldwide Independent Repair Program in March 2021. The program aims to provide genuine parts, tools, repair manuals, and diagnostics for repair shops that are not part of its authorized service providers.
These shops will be able to receive free training and tools in order to provide safe and reliable repairs.
For Amazon, its stance against the right to repair bill comes from its belief that “consumers are entitled to receive repair services that are safe and effective.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s congress report details a number of the manufacturers’ explanations for their repair restrictions.
The tech giants, their lobbyists, and representatives have successfully terminated many of the bills introduced in the US statehouses. However, many representatives such as Gregerson plan to reintroduce the right to repair bills in the future.
Current status in USA
Historically, almost all the US states introduced a right to repair bill. In 2021, more than half the states had an active bill in their statehouses. However, these active bills have been dismissed in most of those states and will not become laws.
New York is so far an exception, with the Fair Repair Act passing the state’s senate. This act requires the manufacturing companies to provide open access to its diagnostic and repair documentation of all products. It is scheduled to be voted on in January 2022.
In July 2021, President Biden signed an order promoting competition in the US economy, including the repair business. This the FTC to bring forward more regulations on manufacturers’ restrictions on repair tools and information.
The FTC believes that the right to repair will make repairs faster and cheaper while reducing electronic waste. Their congress report concludes that their efforts are aimed at ensuring that “consumers have choices when they need to repair products that they purchase and own.”
The right to repair has been around for 15 years, and its advocates’ stance is only growing stronger. The supporters of this concept believe in the users’ ultimate ownership and authority over-purchased devices, and thus their right to fix them wherever they desire.
To this end, the right to repair bill calls for the availability of the necessary parts, tools, information, and diagnosis for a proper repair at a local and independent repair shop.
However, tech giants and their lobbyists proved to have stronger influence with almost all the proposed bill terminated thanks to their efforts.
Speaking of the right to repair, sometimes a product is defective or simply put, a bad investment and not worth your additional efforts. More about this in What is the Lemon Law? USA Lemon Laws Simply Explained.