The Right to Repair

I’m a do-it-yourself (DIY) person in many ways. I work on equipment on the ranch, repair or improve things in the house, and often tackle electrical or mechanical tasks. I’ve replaced hydraulic hoses, changed oil, replaced brakes, changed outlets, wired up lights, and more. I keep a hand cleaning degreaser handy and use it regularly.

I think many people who work in software development are the same way, and often I find they want to rebuild things themselves rather than adopt or improve what’s there. Many organizations have a fair amount of NIH Syndrome inside that results in money and resources spent on software that might be better used elsewhere. I think some of this is going away as current trends in software make use of APIs, OSS, and services to cobble together a workflow rather than just building something from scratch.

However, that’s not always something we can do. In fact, we often can’t take apart commercial software and fix it, not even when it’s broken and in need of repair. That same philosophy is starting to pervade products in the real world, which is disappointing to me as someone that likes to be able to repair something I own.

There is a good article on the right to repair over at Make magazine. In this case, the argument is that there are certain restrictions manufacturers put in place to limit the ability of individuals or third parties to repair products. In the physical world, I think this is a problem for actual devices, but it’s also becoming an issue as software pervades the operation of many physical devices. One of the higher-profile complaints has been with tractor service.

I don’t know how we reconcile the right to repair and own something with the intellectual property rights of software. It is a thorny issue, and one that I am not sure of how I would want to frame the rights, but I do hope that we at least ensure that physical products people own can be repaired by individuals, including the ability to “reset” software as needed.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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7 Responses to The Right to Repair

  1. Tim Radney says:

    Seems like those farmers need to start driving Orange tractors instead of Green.

    Like

  2. way0utwest says:

    lol, I agree. I know some of this is hype, as they can do some things like oil changes, but some other things are common, but because of software, they require a tech.

    My BMW said I’d need to go to the dealer, but I can flash it with a USB drive myself with firmware from BMW. I’m hoping more of that is common over time, and as laws require manufacturers not to lock people in

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  3. There’s far more at risk than just the inability to repair, this goes way beyond the right to repair. Real ownership of something is at stake.

    Patented software is being injected into everything because it then changes the ownership of that thing. In the past if you purchased a car with a key fob that could remotely unlock your car then that was yours, you owned it. Now everything has software, patented software. Recently Toyota tried (and ultimately pulled back due to customer outrage over the proposal) to change how key fobs work so that if you wanted to continue using the key fob for the car you purchased you’d have to pay an annual subscription and fi you didn’t the fob would become useless. This would be possible only because of software in the Key FOB that is patented. People should be allowed to deconstruct and alter any piece of code that comes with something they purchased as long as they are not then trying to sell what they’ve done for profit. Toyota backed down but only b/c of customer outrage. They WILL try this again and other corporations will try this as well as long as they are able to keep people from accessing and altering software code.

    We rectify this the same way we deal with other intellectual property (ie music, video). As long as you are not taking that which someone else created and patented and trying to re-sell it, even if you’ve modified it then its not OK else it is and that includes allowing someone who legally owns something to pay someone else to repair it.

    If you want to help in the fight for Right To repair check out YouTuber Louis Rossman, a small business owner who does electronics repair and whom has been a part of the fight for right to repair. Louis has been going to various state level hearings on Rights To Repair to testify as to why individuals should have the right to repair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • way0utwest says:

      That’s how I’d want things. If I’m not reselling the work, I ought to be able to repair and change things. I’d ask for this from software actually, though I know this sometimes means I’d break patches, so I don’t know how often this would be useful in real life.

      Like

  4. paschott says:

    Overall, I’m a fan of the “right to repair” idea. The arguments many companies make that people could mess up their hardware just ring hollow. Yes, that’s true – but it’s always been true that something could go wrong if you mess with the hardware. For the software side, I can see cases for and against. The “tractor” argument is a good one – farmers pay huge amounts for their equipment and can’t repair or adjust things to keep their equipment running for a far less cost than the official dealership maintenance. I know that we had a friend with a truck someone had tweaked to get more power from the engine, but that put it outside of the specs. He was willing to take the risk of damage and tradeoff (to pull a trailer up mountains) but that would require someone willing to use a computer to set those values outside of the manufacturer settings. That was something he could do himself if he spent $$ for a device capable of programming his onboard computer, even if it messed with the warranty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is a clear an obvious effort to move as much of the populace both individuals and business, away from actual real property ownership be it physical or digital and discourage re-use or fixing. Corporations are onboard with green efforts but only so far as recycling because that means you still have to purchase a new instance of their product whether you need/want it or not. Louis Rossman has a number of excellent videos on how Apple is a major instigator behind this kind of practice. Apple’s already been busted putting in place code that artificially slows down someone’s phone after its age exceeds 2 years thus encouraging customer to replace their iPhone every 2 years or more whether they want to or not. The way to work-a-round this is repairing the code, what the vendor calls hacking.

      These corporations are spending billions of dollars to fight off Right To Repair legislation and they aren’t doing it because they want what’s best for their customers; its about control and recurring revenue. The tractor example is just one of many that perfectly demonstrates what the corporations are trying to do be they deal in real products, digital code or both.

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