Companies have been trying to control the products they sell, after they sell them, for decades. Take a look at the challenges and victories of the Right to Repair movement over a long enough time, and you’ll see it’s not just about phones, or batteries, or secret error codes. It’s about pushing back against a creeping status quo of companies dictating who gets to access or fix their products, at what price.
Here’s an abbreviated timeline of the Right to Repair movement’s most notable moments.
1975 – The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act clarifies the definitions of warranties offered to customers by companies (“full,” “express,” “limited,” etc.), and aims to prevent companies wriggling out of their obligations under them. This includes voiding a warranty because a customer tried to fix the product, and the little stickers they use to do it. (Wikipedia)
1990 – Amendments to the Clean Air Act require that every U.S. car be able to monitor its own emissions by 1996. A standardized car interface is needed, creating the OBD-II port and widening independent shop access to diagnostics and data.
2011 – iFixit joins the call for the copyright office to make exceptions in the DMCA for things like jailbreaking phones, tablets, and video game consoles. And wins—at least on the phone front.
2012 – Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a Right to Repair Initiative that demanded car makers provide independent shops with the same diagnostic and repair information and tools as is provided to dealers and authorized repair shops.
2013 – A movement builds to make cellphone unlocking legal again. The DMCA emboldened carriers to crack down on using your cellphone on other carriers after you’ve paid for it; even the White House thought it was bad.
2014 – Rather than fight bills and ballot measures state by state, automotive and repair groups agree to a nationwide standard for access to repair data.
2015-2016 – iFixit sends more than 40,000 comments to the Copyright Office asking for DMCA exemptions to hack things like e-readers, tractors, cellphones, game consoles, and more.
2015 – The Copyright Office grants exemptions for tractors, cars, and tablets.
2016 – MacBook repair guru and prolific YouTube streamer Louis Rossman argues the importance of Right to Repair legislation, in one of the first of his many videos and testimony appearances.
2018 – The Copyright Office broadens its DMCA exemptions to include voice assistants, jailbreaking new phones, home automation systems, tractors, and most third-party repair.
2018 – California’s recycling agency CalRecycle declares repair as essential to a sustainable future.
2019 – Hearings are held in 20 states for Right to Repair throughout the year.
2019 – The European Union’s Green Deal contains a number of repair-related intentions and goals.
2020 – At least 27 states look to have repair legislation introduced this year.