Consumers Fight for the Right to Repair

Consumers Fight for the Right to Repair

Ever had an electronic piece of equipment that was awesome – until it broke? When electronics or appliances fail, most repairs must be carried out by a repair shop that has been authorized by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), usually using OEM parts – otherwise, any warranty attached to the product will be voided. Because most customers want to preserve their warranty, OEMs possess considerable insulation from threats of competition in both the service and replacement parts markets. These advantages come in the form of:

  • proprietary repair manuals
  • firmware access restrictions
  • parts pricing differences for firms that are licensed to conduct OEM repairs versus those that aren’t.

Due to these controls, aftermarket repair can be a lucrative source of income for OEMs.

Right to Repair Laws

OEMs’ market domination hasn’t occurred without significant consumer outcry. Consumer and repair industry groups have started pushing for the passage of “right to repair” legislation in 18 states, including California, Kansas, Nebraska, and New York. These bills are inspired by a similar Massachusetts law passed in 2012, which forces OEMs to give independent repair shops access to diagnostic tools, information, and parts for motor vehicles.

Thus far, none of the proposed bills have been passed. However, were such bills to pass, it would significantly erode market share for repair services for OEMs, as consumers would be able to take their repair needs to third-party repair shops. Consumers could even carry out the repair themselves, depressing service provider revenues.

DMCA Legislation Restricts Repairs

Another method used by OEMs to restrict repairs is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Under Section 1201 of that law – often referred to as the anti-circumvention rule – it is illegal to break or tamper with an access control mechanism, which often takes the form of digital rights management (DRM) software, for copyrighted works, including the software necessary for many consumer products to function. Because repairing such products regularly requires bypassing some form of DRM, making repairs can constitute a crime punishable by fines or even prison time.

Needless to say, consumer and repair advocacy groups have objected to OEMs’ use of the DMCA in this way. For example, in July 2016, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sponsored a lawsuit against the US government, charging that the rule constrains the free speech rights of researchers and content creators.

Consumers Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Many consumers have turned to alternative solutions to effect repairs, such as:

  • tech-savvy friends
  • online videos
  • websites that offer repair instructions (e.g., iFixit or RepairClinic.com)

The number of individual DIY repairers – in the form of tech-savvy friends or online manuals with detailed repair instructions – has increased due to the rise of the “right to repair” movement. Several affiliated organizations (e.g., iFixit) offer free online repair instructions.

Learn More

For more insights into the US repair services industry, see Repair Services: United States, a report published by the Freedonia Focus Reports division of The Freedonia Group. This report forecasts US personal consumption expenditures (PCE) on repair services in both nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) US dollars to 2022. Total spending in both nominal and real terms is segmented by product in terms of:

  • audio-visual and information processing equipment
  • household appliances
  • clothing
  • furniture, furnishings, and floor coverings
  • footwear and leather goods

To illustrate historical trends, total demand and the various segments in both nominal and real terms are provided in annual series from 2007 to 2017.

Related Focus Reports Include:

About the Author

Owen Stuart is a Market Research Analyst with Freedonia Focus Reports. He conducts research and writes a variety of Focus Reports, and his experience as an analyst covers multiple industries.