If you're trying to tinker with repair or even recycle your electronics—whether it's a computer, a tablet, or a toaster—you increasingly face two major hurdles. The first, bizarrely enough, is copyright law. See, you may own your device, but you probably just rent, or license, the software that runs it, and that license will come with all sorts of legal and technological restrictions. That particular problem has been getting a lot of attention in the last few days in the context of cars and tractors. Automakers have told the Copyright Office that car owners don't really own their cars, and shouldn’t be allowed to tinker with them. But there’s another hairy problem: would-be repairers need access to the tools and documentation for their devices.
New York is seeking to become the first state in the U.S. to solve that second problem, with Fair Repair bills that guarantee customers can get access to the tools they need to service and repair their stuff. If you're in New York, we need your help to get those bills passed. Our friends at the Digital Right to Repair Coaltion have set up a tool to let you email your state legislators and tell them to support these bipartisan bills.1
This Fair Repair bills require any manufacturer that still supports a product to set reasonable terms for owners of that product to get replacement parts, service information, and security updates. Crucially, they would allow owners and independent repair facilities to have access to the same diagnostic and repair tools as the company itself uses. Whether you're handy enough to fix your own computer or not, it helps everybody to have a competitive market with both manufacturer and third-party service options.
There are areas where the bills don't go far enough. For example, they don't explicitly specify that owners have the right to sell their stuff when they're done with it. That's a cornerstone of a robust fair repair policy, and while it may seem like common sense, it'd still be nice to have it spelled out. More critically, this bill explicitly carves out motor vehicles and motorcycles. We believe that car owners have just as much a right to pop the hood as computer owners—and we've told the Copyright Office as much—but even without covering cars, these bills are an important step forward for consumers.
New Yorkers, we encourage you to support your Fair Repair Bills. The right to repair should be available to everybody, and it should be affordable and fair. New York can and should lead the way.