To Repair or Not to Repair Electronic Devices? More Right to Repair Laws on the Horizon

Arent Fox

Arent Fox

Right to repair laws have come in and out of the public eye over the last decade. While many of the earliest laws covered only specific industries, such as the automotive and farm equipment industries, many states are looking towards legislation that specifically targets electronics. A consumer rights group based in Pennsylvania recently announced that it will push for state legislation in 2020.

What is a Right to Repair Law?

Right to repair laws require manufacturers to make information, tools, and software available to consumers and independent repair companies to ensure manufacturers do not have a monopoly on the repair industry. Currently, around twenty states are considering pending Right to repair bills that would allow consumers and independent repair companies to have access to information and tools necessary to make repairs on the same terms that it is offered to authorized repairers.

The right to repair movement began in earnest following a 2012 Massachusetts ballot initiative that required automakers to make available the information and tools needed to make repairs. This law soon led to automakers agreeing to make the information and tools available nationwide.

Following on that success, consumer rights groups have set their sights on extending the same protections for computers, cell phones, televisions, and gaming systems. A recent study by US PIRG found that over 90% of warranties the group reviewed contained language indicating that repair, outside of authorized channels, would void the warranty. This same phenomenon attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In 2018, the FTC sent letters to a number of companies in different manufacturing industries advising that language voiding a warranty due to a consumer breaking a warranty sticker, using third-party replacement parts, or using third-party repair services is a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Right to Repair In Pennsylvania

PennPIRG, a nonprofit consumer group based in Pennsylvania, is pursuing Right to repair legislation to allow consumers to have multiple options when in need of electronic device repairs. The group held a news conference where local repair shop owners expressed their concerns with the lack of accessibility to the correct tools, information, and software to make repairs to electronic devices. A spokesperson from PennPIRG announced they hope to see legislation in action in January 2020.

PennPIRG recently published a report finding that electronic waste is rapidly growing, especially in the US. The report states that “416,000 phones enter the waste stream each day, approximately 15,200 per day in Pennsylvania.” Notably, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren has announced that a push for a national right to repair law would be part of her agenda if elected as President in 2020.

What will Right to Repair Laws Mean for Manufacturers?

If a right to repair law is passed in your state, it is important to understand what it means for your business. You will need to comply with the sharing of information, tools, and software which may include, but is not limited to:

  • Making diagnostic and repair information available to independent repair providers and consumers;
  • Selling equipment or service parts at a fair price to independent repair providers and consumers; and
  • Selling diagnostic repair tools at a fair price to independent repair providers and consumers.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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