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Right to Repair

2022 JUN 23

Mains   > Environment & Ecology   >   Pollution   >   Miscellaneous

IN NEWS:

  • Recently, the New York State Legislature in the United States has passed the world's first 'Right to Repair' law, the Digital Fair Repair Act, for digital electronics.

MORE ON NEWS:

  • This act provides consumers with the right to repair and refurbish their purchased goods.
  • The Digital Fair Repair Act would require digital electronics manufacturers to make parts, tools, information, and software available to consumers and independent repair shops.
  • With access to relevant tools and repair manuals, independent repair shops will be able to compete with manufacturers.
  • This bill covers most products containing electronics, but it does not include motor vehicles, home appliances, medical devices, public safety communications equipment like police radios, agricultural equipment, and off-road equipment.

WHAT IS RIGHT TO REPAIR?

  • Right to repair is the legal concept that allows consumers to repair the products they buy or choose their own service providers (third-party) instead of going through the manufacturer.
  • The rationale behind the “right to repair” is that the individual who purchases a product must own it completely.
  • This implies that apart from being able to use the product, consumers must be able to repair and modify the product the way they want to.
  • Right to repair in the electronics industry dates back to the dawn of the computer era in the mid-1950s
  • Since the late 1990s, right to repair has been a hotly contested issue, especially in the electronics, automotive and farm equipment industries.
  • In recent years, the issue gained a higher profile when right to repair legislation was filed in several U.S. states and major tech vendors, including Apple, AT&T, and Microsoft, and their trade associations, lobbied against it, claiming safety, security, and copyright concerns.

IMPORTANCE OF RIGHT TO REPAIR:

  • Environmental benefits:
    • Right to Repair legislations mandate that electronics manufacturer provide spare parts and repair manuals for aging electronics.
    • Advocates of right to repair say this is going to help cut down on the growing e-waste problem.
    • Manufacturing an electronic device is a highly polluting process.
    •  It makes use of polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuel, which has an adverse impact on the environment.
    • Improving the life of devices as well as repair and reuse will reduce this adverse impact on environment.
  • Alleviate the digital divide:
    • Right to repair could also alleviate the digital divide by making cheaper refurbished goods available in higher quantities to people who can't afford new products.
  •  Boost local repair shops and small businesses:
    • Right to repair laws would boost local repair shops and small businesses as the consumer can choose their own service providers (third-party) for repair and modification instead of going through the manufacturer.
    • For example, manufacturers will no longer be able to dictate who can repair their products by authorising only a few select "service centres".
  • Against “planned obsolescence”:
    • Right to repair movement and legislations attempt to fight against the idea of planned obsolescence and to make electronics last longer.
    • Planned obsolescence is an old marketing concept in which the manufacturers deliberately design and create products in a manner and in a form that limits their lives. The goal is to make sure that consumers buy new versions of these products on a regular basis.
      • For example, Apple routinely puts certain older versions of its products on the “obsolete” list. This means that Apple stops offering hardware support for those products at its service centres.
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals:
    • Right to repair is a step toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production.
  • Promotes Circular Economy:
    • Availability of genuine product parts and instructions from manufacturers will prolong product life and promotes reuse of the devices.
    • So right to repair can be a milestone on the path to a circular economy. (https://ilearncana.com/details/Circular-Economy/1393)

“Right to repair” in India:

  • Monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer’s’ “right to choose” recognised by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • Consumer disputes jurisprudence in the country has also partially acknowledged the right to repair.
  • In Shamsher Kataria v Honda Siel Cars India Ltd (2017), for instance, the Competition Commission of India ruled that restricting the access of independent automobile repair units to spare parts by way of an end-user license agreement was anti-competitive.
    • The CCI observed that the practice was detrimental to consumer welfare.

 

 

CONCERNS:

  • Intellectual property and security concerns:
    • Large tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, have been lobbying against the right to repair.
    • Their argument is that opening up their intellectual property to third party repair services or amateur repairers could lead to exploitation and impact the safety and security of their devices.
    • For example, Tesla has fought against right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cyber security.
  • Companies promote alternatives to counter the ‘right to repair’:
    • The companies are constantly claiming that they are working towards greater durability themselves.
    • For example, Microsoft has pointed out how it improved the battery and hard drive of its third-generation Surface Laptop after it was criticised for making it next to impossible to replace the battery in older models.
  • Mechanisms that forbid repair by third parties:
    • Big companies often deploy mechanisms that practically forbid other enterprises to repair their products.
    • Digital warranty cards, for instance, ensure that by getting a product from a “non-recognised” outfit, a customer loses the right to claim a warranty.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Providing access to spare parts and information is imperative, If people want to repair and modify things in a timely, safe and cost-effective way, whether by doing it themselves or taking it to a service centre of their choice, thus to the “Right to Repair” in its true spirit.
  • Need of the hour is a well-drafted legislation will not only uphold the right to repair but may aid in striking a much-needed balance between intellectual property and competitive laws.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “In view of the rapidly growing problem of electronic waste generation, enforcing the ‘right to repair’ could be a milestone on the path to a circular economy which provides incentives for reusing products rather than discarding them”.Discuss.