Upholding the right to repair

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Consumer Protection Act 2019

Mains level : Paper 2- Right to repair

Context

The U.S. state of New York recently passed the Fair Repair Act, which requires manufacturers to supply repair information, tools, and parts to independent repair shops and not just their own stores or partners.

What is the right to repair?

  • It refers to proposed government legislation that would allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer products (e.g. electronic, automotive devices).
  • The idea behind “right to repair” is in the name: If you own something, you should be able to repair it yourself or take it to a technician of your choice.
  • People are pretty used to this concept when it comes to older cars and appliances, but right-to-repair advocates argue that modern tech, especially anything with a computer chip inside, is rarely repairable.

Why is such right significant?

  • Lifespan enhancement: The goal of the movement is to increase the lifespan of products and to keep them from ending up in landfills.
  • Against planned obsolescence: The electronic manufacturers are encouraging such culture so that devices are designed specifically to last a limited amount of time and to be replaced.
  • Scarcity of natural resources: Obsolescence leads to immense pressure on the environment and wasted natural resources.
  • Mitigating climate change: Manufacturing an electronic device is a highly polluting process. It makes use of polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuel.
  • Boost to repair economy: Right to repair advocates also argue that this will help boost business for small repair shops, which are an important part of local economies.

Why we need the right to repair?

  • Exorbitant repair price: Often, manufacturers reduce the durability of the product, compelling consumers to either repurchase the product or get it repaired at exorbitant prices affixed by the manufacturers.
  • Violation of rights: This tramples upon the right to obtain information about the quality of the product, the right to procure products at reasonable prices, and the right to seek redress against unscrupulous practices.
  • Implicit in Consumer Protection Act: The ‘right to repair’ can be said to be implicit in Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • Right to repair provides consumers with the right to repair and refurbish their purchased goods.
  • Providing livelihood to repair technicians: An entire repair class is, in effect, denied its right to conduct business as it does not have the tools, parts, guidelines and technical know-how to repair these high-tech products.
  • In addition to protecting their right to livelihood, it may also prove beneficial as tech companies are required to share their repair manuals with certified technicians.

What are the concerns of the manufacturers?

  • IP rights, security and quality concers: While right to repair is a victory for consumer rights, privacy, security and quality concerns along with blatant intellectual property (IP) rights violations of the manufacturers cannot be sidelined.
  • Impact on quality and functioning: Manufacturers claim that the quality and functioning of the product might be adversely affected if they allow repairs by consumers and third parties.
  • The fear of manufacturers is so potent that they incorporate warranty clauses which lapse when the product is repaired by a third party.

Way forward

  • Avoiding blanket waiver: While necessary clauses to maintain the quality of the product can be included, a blanket waiver should be avoided.
  • For instance, the quality assurance clause can be incorporated for use of company-recommended spare parts and certified repair shops.
  • Making available the repair manual: Making repair manuals available to certified business owners could go a long way in balancing the rights of consumers and manufacturers.
  • Sign non-disclosure agreement to protect IP rights: Manufacturers can sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect the IP with the certified repairers/businesses.
  • Alloting certification/license: Further, the lack of certification/licensing of repair workers is seen as a reflection of their lack of skills.
  • But a repair certification/licence can be allotted to those who pass certain criteria and skill tests.
  • Insert right to repair in Consumer protection Act: The ‘right to repair’ can be said to be implicit in Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • Its apparent disregard merits an explicit insertion of a ‘right to repair’ clause in the said provision.
  • This would make consumers more aware, provide tooth to an already implicit right, and aid in advancing repair-related liability on various stakeholders.
  • Reparability parameter: The product liability clause under Section 84 can be amended and expanded to impose product liability concerning various reparability parameters of the product.
  • France requires manufacturers to display a repairability index on their products which consists of five parameters.
  • Duration of product liability: The duration of imposing product liability may vary depending on the product and its longevity.
  • Here, we can rely on the EU’s guidelines on Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information Regulations, 2021, which mandate manufacturers to provide spare parts for up to 10 years to avoid premature obsolescence.

Conclusion

The New York legislation is a reminder that it is time to not only acknowledge the right to repair of consumers but also respond to the corresponding rights of the manufacturers.

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