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

Apple recently announced that consumers will have the right to purchase spare components of their products, following an order of the Federal Trade Commission of the United States, which directs manufacturers to remedy unfair anti-competitive practice and asks them to make sure that consumers can make repairs, either themselves or by a third-party agency. The momentum is, however, not so strong in India.

Challenges in repairing of electronic goods

  • Repairing is becoming unreasonably expensive or pretty much impossible because of technology becoming obsolete.
  • Incompatibility: Companies avoid the publication of manuals that can help users make repairs easily.
  • No repair manual: The absence of repair manuals means that manufacturers hold near-monopoly over repair workshops that charge consumers exorbitant prices.
  • Incompatibility: Manufacturers have proprietary control over spare parts and most firms refuse to make their products compatible with those of other firms.
  • Planned obsolescence results in products breaking down too soon and buying a replacement is often cheaper and easier than repairing them.
  • 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.

Right to repair

  • 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.
  • Monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer’s’ “right to choose” recognised by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. 
  •  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.

International practices

  • Many countries have taken initiatives, adopted policies and even tried to enact legislation that recognise the “right to repair” to reduce electronic waste.
  • Some jurisdictions offer limited scope for exercising the right to repair.
  • For instance, under the Australian Consumer Law consumers have a right to request that certain goods be repaired if they break too easily or do not work properly.
  • The Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, 2012 requires automobile manufacturers to provide spare parts and diagnostics to buyers and even independent third-party mechanics.
  • The UK also introduced the path-breaking “right to repair” in 2021 that makes it legally binding on manufacturers to provide spare parts.

Way forward

  • 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 in the country.

Conclusion

If people want to fix things in a timely, safe and cost-effective way, whether by doing it themselves or taking it
to a service centre of their choice, providing access to spare parts and information is imperative.

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