By John Bethune
Launched earlier this year, an organization called the Digital Right to Repair Coalition is promoting a state-by-state effort to pass legislation affirming the right of owners to repair their equipment themselves. According to the group’s executive director, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the group is not targeting any particular industry. Instead, she said, it is focused on “any digital electronic product or part, from toaster ovens to MRI machines.”
However, Gordon-Byrne added that the group sees the healthcare field as “particularly plagued by a ‘closed’ system for support which is dramatically increasing costs while reducing the lifecycle of assets.” Gordon-Byrne describes the problem as one that affects “all consumers, business, industry, and government worldwide: the lack of repair and support options for anything with a computerized part.”
Because such products contain chips with embedded computer code, she said, some manufacturers claim that intellectual property laws give them the right to control access to the workings of their machines. To enforce their claim, they may restrict access to repair by means of a password, key fob lock, or even a physical lock.
The coalition, which can be found online at digitalrighttorepair.org, was launched in January 2013 with the goal of reaffirming the right to repair through legislative action at the state level. The model for the coalition is legislation that was passed last year in Massachusetts giving independent automotive mechanics the right to purchase the same repair and diagnostic information that dealers get from carmakers.
According to Gordon-Byrne, a general right-to-repair bill will be introduced very soon in the New York legislature, and at least two other states are getting close. The goal of these bills, she said, is to ensure that any digital electronic product or component is sold with the right to access to microcode, tools, and documentation.