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[Sansad TV] Perspective: Right to Repair

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Context

  • Apple recently announced that consumers will have the right to purchase spare components of their products.
  • Google also announced plans to expand access to the parts and tools that consumers need to fix their own devices.
  • These announcements by big-tech companies follow widespread calls for Right To Repair reforms.

In this article, we will analyze what is the Right to Repair, how it helps consumers like you and me and how will these reforms help in protecting the environment.

Right to Repair Movement: A Backgrounder

What is 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.

The Right to Repair movement aims for:

  1. Easy repair: The device should be constructed and designed in a manner that allows easy repairs
  2. Access to critical components: End users and independent repair providers should be able to access original spare parts and tools (software as well as physical tools) needed to repair the device at fair market conditions
  3. No technical barriers: Repairs should by design be possible and not hindered by software programming
  4. Proper communication: The repairability of a device should be clearly communicated by the manufacturer.

How did it came to existence?

  • The average consumer purchases an electronic gadget, knowing that it will very quickly become obsolete as its manufacturer releases newer and more amped up version.
  • As your device grows older, issues start to crop up — your smartphone may slow down to a point where it is almost unusable, or your gaming console may require one too many hard resets.
  • When this happens, more often than not, you are left at the mercy of manufacturers who make repairs inaccessible and an inordinately expensive affair.

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.

Issues with obsolete devices

  • Unfair trade practice:  For manufacturers, either of these options is a win-win case, because high-priced repairs, as well as new sales, mean more profits.
  • High cost to consumers: This often led to higher consumer costs or drive consumers to replace devices instead of repairing them.
  • Generation of E-waste: The global community is concerned over the continuously growing size of the e-waste stream.
  • Recyclability: Up to 95% of raw materials used to produce electronic devices can be recycled, while the vast majority of newly produced devices use little to none recycled material due to the higher cost.

Why do electronic manufacturers oppose this movement?

Large tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, have been lobbying against the right to repair.

  • IPR violations through reverse engineering: Their argument is that opening up their intellectual property to third party repair services.
  • Threats to device safety: Amateur repairers could lead to exploitation and impact the safety and security of their devices.
  • Personal data security: Tesla, for instance, has fought against right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cyber security.
  • Sheer casualization: Tech giant has allowed repairs of its devices only by authorised technicians and not providing spare parts or DIY manuals on how to fix its products.

Successful implementation of the Right to Repair

(I) United States

  • In his executive order to promote economic competition, President Biden called to force tech companies to allow consumers to fix their own electronic devices — either themselves or using a technician of their choice.
  • He specifically called out cell phone and tractor manufacturers in the White House’s fact sheet.
  • With this, some believe manufacturers of electronic devices may even start making their products more durable and long lasting.

(II) Europe

  • Earlier this month, the UK government introduced right-to-repair rules with the aim of extending the lifespan of products by up to 10 years.
  • Manufacturers of products like washing machines, TVs and refrigerators are required to make spare parts available to people purchasing electrical appliances.
  • The new legislation gives manufacturers a two-year window to make the necessary changes to abide by the new legislation.

Right to Repair in India

The ‘right to repair’ is not recognised as a statutory right in India, but certain pronouncements within the antitrust landscape have tacitly recognized the right.

  • Necessary consumer right: Monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer’s’ “right to choose” recognised by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • Acknowledgement by agencies: Consumer disputes jurisprudence in the country has also partially acknowledged the right to repair.
  • Upholding Competition: 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 as anti-competitive.
  • Part of consumer welfare: The CCI observed that the practice was detrimental to consumer welfare.
  • Laws for recycle: The e-waste (management and handling) rules addresses not only to handle the waste in an environmentally friendly manner, but also has laid down rules about its transportation, storage and recycling.

These regulations have had little impact and a strict law is needed for proper implementation.

Way forward

  • 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.
  • Well-drafted legislation will not only uphold the right to repair but may aid in striking a much-needed balance between intellectual property and competition laws in the country.

Conclusion

  • The Right to Repair is necessarily a battle between the customer and the manufacturer. The right to repair can apply to any industry.
  • It’s a win-win situation for consumers if the proposed laws help in ending monopoly and make the repair information available in the public domain.

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