Historically, the United States has been “a nation of tinkerers.” Since the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998, however, the ability of Americans to fix or modify products they already own has been hindered by copyright law.
Section 1201 of the DMCA makes it a violation of copyright law to tamper with or disable software locks that protect copyrighted code. The Librarian of Congress has the ability to grant exemptions, but only for three-year periods after jumping through a number of legal hoops.
Manufacturers have also used copyright laws to keep repair manuals offline, making them inaccessible to would-be tinkerers and repair shops.
Some states like Massachusetts are taking action to make it easier for consumers to fix their property rather than being forced to buy a new product when their old one breaks down. From Vice’s tech blog Motherboard:
On July 25, the Massachusetts Senate approved a Resolution that would create a special commission that would research the feasibility of forcing device manufacturers to treat customers and independent repair shops the same as officially licensed repair outlets. According to the proposed study, that means providing customers and independent repair shops with “repair technical updates, diagnostic software, service access passwords, updates and corrections to firmware, and related documentation.”
The policy being studied by the commission legislation wouldn’t allow anyone to reproduce the copyrighted material and sell it on their own. Rather, it’s a relatively modest proposal that gives consumers and repair shops the ability to make products they already paid for work for them.