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Right to Repair

What is the Right to Repair Electronics?

There has been a huge change in the last few decades in the average owner's ability to repair, or have repaired, the equipment and devices they. Where once it was standard practice that items would be supplied with repair manuals and schematics, spare parts were readily available, and equipment was designed with repairability in mind.

Today schematics are kept confidential. Manufacturers refuse to sell components, and insist that their own suppliers do the same. And an increasing array of technical and legal restrictions are invented to prevent repairs by anyone, except possibly the manufacturer's own authorised repair channel.

Right to Repair is a political movement that has emerged to try to reverse, or at least stall, this trend. The trend is general - effecting items as diverse as tractors, washing machines, and phones. Right to repair electronics, specifically, refers to electronic devices and components.

The right to repair for electronics refers to the concept of allowing end users, consumers as well as businesses, to repair electronic devices they own or service without any legal or technical restrictions. The idea behind this concept is to render electronics easier and cheaper to repair with the goal of prolonging the lifecycle of such devices and reducing electronic waste caused by broken or unused devices.

Four requirements for electronic devices are of particular importance:

  1. the device should be constructed and designed in a manner that allows repairs to be made easily;
  2. End users and independent repair providers should be able to access original spare parts and tools (software as well as physical tools) needed to repair the device at fair market conditions;
  3. repairs should be possible by design and not hindered by software programming;
  4. the repairability of a device should be clearly communicated by the manufacturer.

Why is Right to Repair important?

In the early days of electrical devices, machines were built to last, and also built to be repaired. They came with specifications and schematics from the manufacturer to allow them to be easily repaired by their owner or by independent technicians. That is why old devices from the middle of last century still work, while a washing machine made 10 years ago does not. Manufacturers realised that they could make more money by selling you a new device every few years. Or by implementing technical and legal restrictions that prevented third party repair, while allowing them to offer their own repair services at prices untroubled by competition.

This is now endemic across wide swathes of product sectors. Farmers cannot repair their own tractors - needing an expensive and time consuming visit from the manufacturer to change a simple component. With the iPhone 13, Apple introduced a serialisation system to the screens. To replace the display without losing functionality, you needed access to Apple's own internal systems to reserialise the replacement part - without this, you couldn't even swap screens between two brand new iPhones without also transferring a physical microchip between the two (highly skilled work, which adds to the cost considerably). This artificially penalised screen repair by all third party repair shops, increasing costs and decreasing customer choice. Fortunately the backlash to this move forced Apple to reverse the decision and, for the time being at least, you still have some access to a competitive repair market if you break your iPhone screen.

Deliberate anti-repair policies like this are bad for the environment, bad for your rights, and bad for your wallet. The only people it is good for are large manufacturers.

Here at Solder Fix we support Right to Repair, and the right for consumers to be able to make a free informed choice on what they do with devices that they own. Whether that be independent repair, manufacturer repair, or indeed to replace with a new model. Right to Repair is about retaining and regaining the ability to make this choice, rather than be forced down the path most profitable to the manufacturer.

Isn't this an American thing?

It began in America, where a group of farmers started to try and pass legislation to allow them to repair their tractors, and has expanded to include other electronic and electrical devices. But this is a worldwide issue with ramifications for everyone. It is a matter of being able to choose. The EU has made some progress, and has laid down legislation to make sure larger appliances have the ability to be repaired for longer (applied retrospectively to the UK,see here). More progress needs to be made, and more needs to be done, to raise the profile of an issue that many are not aware of.

Get involved

There are a number of ways to get involved. Depending where you live. A good place to start in the UK or EU is here:

Consider contacting the UK, and EU, governments to indicate your support for the right to choose how you repair, and to ask for legislation to make sure manufacturers are legally required to make repair a valid choice. This is not a problem that is going to be resolved without pressure from the general public - restricting your right to repair is simply too profitable.

Useful links

Further reading on Right to Repair

  • Wikipedia: Electronics Right to Repair - Gives a good general overview on what Right To Repair is.
  • - A European campaign group advocating for Right To Repair in the UK and EU.
  • Louis Rossmann's YouTube channel - One of the early proponents and popularisers of electronics Right to Repair in the US. His popular channel covers his campaigning, gives expert lessons in component level repair of Apple Mac laptops, and provides more information that anyone would ever want to know about the problems of renting commercial property in New York City.
  • Repair Preservation Group - A US Right to Repair advocacy group.

Useful links to help with DIY repair

Here are a series of useful resources to help you with repairing your own devices, or to find out how to open them and see how they work. Take care!