Resource Center

‘Right to Repair’ Ruling Expands Options for IoT Consumers

Mandee Thomas
Nov 5, 2018 8:04:00 AM

“Right to repair” reform has been a topic of much discussion in the technology space, and now the Librarian of Congress and US Copyright Office are giving consumers more latitude to repair their own devices legally. The new rules give device owners more control, and are the first steps in an ongoing attempt to becoming self-sufficient IoT consumers.

The ‘Right to Repair’ Argument

Tech manufactures aren’t keen on the idea of buyers fiddling around with their devices when repairs are needed. A big reason for that is money. Repair services are a substantial source of income for many IOT device manufacturers. If they can control the market by keeping out third-party repair companies, along with refusing to sell replacement parts, then they obviously have a lot to gain financially.

Corporate greed isn’t the only reason device companies are hesitant to open the “repair floodgates,” though. Documentation on how to repair the inner-workings of complex devices would be difficult to compose in such a way that caters to the needs of the everyday consumer. There’s also the liability side to think about. Between navigating around tiny components in modern tech with tweezers, and tampering with lithium ion batteries, sensitive components can be easily damaged and the situation can even turn hazardous.

Despite the aforementioned concerns, it stands to reason that consumers should have access to proper repair tools for the products they own and independent repair service options when their devices break, rather than relying on the monopoly instituted by the manufacturer.

Easing Restrictions

As of October 28, restrictions on IOT device repairs have been dramatically loosened for residents of the United States. The new rules set forth by the Librarian of Congress and US Copyright Office affects smartphones, cars, smart home appliances, tractors, and more. Consumers and repair professionals now have the right to legally hack the firmware of “lawfully acquired” devices for the “maintenance” and “repair” of that device. For advocates of the “right to repair” movement, this is a big win.

The new ruling gives new freedoms for consumers, such as:

  1. Jailbreak ‘voice-assisted devices’
  2. Have repairs on devices done by a third party
  3. Root and fix IoT home appliances
  4. Unlock new phones (not just used ones)
  5. Repair motorized land vehicles

A Long Way to Go

While this new ruling is a big step in the right direction, there are some glaring shortcomings involved. It may be “legal” to repair your own IoT devices, but circumventing anti-tampering and digital rights management (DRM) controls may still be too difficult to do without “proper authorization.” And with this new legislation in place, manufacturers are likely going to make it even more challenging to hack their devices.

“Getting an exemption to reset the device is pretty different from having access to the firmware to actually do that,” says Nathan Proctor, head of consumer rights group US PIRG’s right to repair efforts.

The Future of Device Maintenance

In this day and age, just about any product you buy comes with software embedded. And with new and exciting developments in both security and PERS technology, implications for laws like this reach far beyond your smartphone. Having the ability to repair and modify your own devices, and having the necessary tools readily available will make all the difference when it comes to maintaining and keeping your equipment up-to-date.

Take advantage of our robust library of industry and AG related news, articles, webinars and other resources available through our resource center to enhance your success.  You will also discover valuable insights and content you can share with your subscribers through your website, newsletters, and emails.

Receive more useful content like this by signing up for our weekly AG Newsletter below: