While many on the left, most notably Elizabeth Warren, are pushing for a revival of antitrust, here’s one specific policy that could rein in tech giants and has momentum for reform: right-to-repair laws.
The New York Times Editorial Board recently explained why a non-tech-related proposal from Sen. Elizabeth Warren should be applied to consumer electronics. Warren’s proposal, aimed at “leveling the playing field for America’s family farmers,” advocates a national right-to-repair law that would “require manufacturers of farm equipment to make diagnostic tools, manuals, and other repair-related resources available to any individual or business, not just their own dealerships and authorized agents.” The Times wants the proposal to go even further by making it apply to consumer products.
Since the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998, companies have been using claims of copyright protection as the basis for controlling who can perform repairs. While this has affected things like cars and tractors, companies like Apple have also used it to keep repair costs high:
The potential savings are considerable. A 2011 study found that customers who used independent auto repair shops spent about 24 percent less on repairs each year. Similarly, Apple charges $279 to fix the screen of an iPhone X, while a repair store in downtown Washington, D.C., quoted a price of $219 — although the lack of Apple support makes such repairs riskier.
Overly stringent IP protection laws have prevented consumers from affordably repairing products that they already own. It’s tough to see how doing that leads to further innovation.
The Editorial Board provides some hope, saying that all it might take to convince these companies to relax their restrictions is for one state to pass a right-to-repair law:
Legislators in 20 states have introduced some version of right-to-repair legislation this year. The front-runner is a bill in Minnesota, where similar legislation has been proposed for several years. This bill is expected to reach the floor of the Minnesota House this month.
While Warren’s goal of helping farmers is an admirable first step, the Editorial Board is right to look for ways to protect all consumers, and facilitating an open marketplace for repairs is a good (and attainable) way to do it.