South Dakota has put forth new legislation to support to a simple principle: if you own something, you ought to be allowed to fix it. The new bill, SB 136, would require manufacturers of electronics and appliances that contain embedded software to make available to consumers and independent repair shops the information and parts they need to repair those devices, and fully disclose any contract provision standing in the way of full repair and reuse.
That seems like a pretty uncontroversial goal, but lots of major manufacturers that purport to "sell" you all kinds of products are doing their level best to make sure that if your product breaks, only they (or someone they authorize) can repair it. They do this in all kinds of ways—by tying your purchase (or update) to an expensive repair contract; burying sneaky clauses into license agreements (remember, you might buy a device, but if it contains software to make it more functional you probably only "rent" that software); treating repair information (like diagnostic codes) as proprietary; or refusing to sell repair parts to "unauthorized" independent shops (and then calling in the feds to prosecute shops that sell those parts anyway).
That's bad for consumers and for the environment—how often have many of us tossed a device into the trash, or recycled it, because repairing it was too expensive? If that device contains electronics, that casual decision added to the e-waste that is slowly poisoning the planet.
South Dakota isn't the first state to step in to defend its residents' right to repair. In Massachusetts, legislators and voters passed legislation requiring automakers to provide affordable access to all tools, software and information used to repair late model cars and heavy duty vehicles. That legislation will go into effect in 2015.
SB 136 in South Dakota isn't perfect—we'd love to see an additional requirement that the information be freely accessible and online, for example—but it's an important step in the right direction.
The bill will be debated in the Commerce committee today, and will move on to a larger vote later this week. If you live in South Dakota, contact your state senator today and tell him or her to support SB 136.