Win for Right to Repair: Apple, Samsung, and Google Offer Self Repair
The right to repair movement has new wind in its sails with the latest DMCA exemptions—nudging major smartphone providers to provide self-repair options.
Fixing the old instead of buying new is a basic rule of good budgeting.
But when it comes to technology, the purchase vs. repair dilemma is complicated. Buying a new phone makes you the owner, but the ownership concept changes once something breaks and you need access to new parts. Manufacturers become loud copyright proponents, turning owners into users.
Map of the state-by-state progress of right to repair legislation. Image used courtesy of The Repair Association
To promote sustainability and reduce e-waste, many, including consumers and repair associations alike, are on board to reinvest in repair and maintenance. The “many”, until recently, didn’t include the most important players: device manufacturers.
Apple, Samsung, and Google Concede to Self Repair
Smartphone developers have historically pushed back against the right to repair in favor of the right to intellectual property and planned obsolescence, claiming safety concerns, hardware design protection, and warranty issues. But recently, in response to U.S. and European legislation, the attitudes of Apple, Google, and Samsung have shifted, cracking the door to legal consumer repairs on a wider scale.
In November 2021, Apple introduced Self Service Repair, which expands user access to over 200 genuine parts in more than 7,000 locations. Commonly broken or aging parts such as displays, cameras, and batteries are initially included in the self-repair authorization. Mac computers with M1 chips are next.
Apple says only individual technicians with both knowledge and experience should use Self Service Repair. All other users should still visit a certified technician. Image (modified) used courtesy of Apple
Apple users who choose to use the repair option and return the recycled parts will receive credit toward a new purchase.
In March of this year, Samsung announced its own self-repair program available for Samsung Galaxy S20 and S21 phones and Galaxy S7+ tablets. The company stated excellent customer experience and e-waste minimization as the main drivers behind the new program. Under this program, Samsung will give consumers authorized parts, repair tools, and step-by-step instructions to fix their own devices.
Samsung is teaming up with global repair alliance iFixit on its program. Users of Galaxy devices will be able to replace charging ports, displays, and backglass of their phones. They can then return used parts to Samsung for recycling.
Following Apple and Samsung's lead, Google announced on April 8, 2022, that it is also collaborating with iFixit to give Pixel users more options to repair their phones. Driven by its commitment to hardware sustainability, Google will allow skilled Pixel users to make repairs or source help from an authorized service across locations in the U.S., Canada, and the EU where Pixel phones are available.
iFixit repair kit for a Pixel screen. Image used courtesy of iFixit
iFixit will provide spare parts, tools, and guides individually or as elements in iFixit Fix Kits for consumers who want to unleash their inner engineers. Similar to Apple, Google intends to extend the right to repair to Chromebooks in the near future as well as offer a trade-in credit option for old phone parts.
New DMCA Exemptions to Copyright Infringements
Apple, Samsung, and Google's decisions to provide genuine parts for replacement may extend the lifespan of devices while closing the market to low-quality or counterfeit electronics. What inspired these companies to reconsider their stated opinion about self repairs? They had no choice.
With the latest triennial exemption of DMCA Section 1201, breaking the digital lock of smartphones, home appliances, and home systems such as refrigerators and HVAC systems is not illegal. Therefore, they can be consumer repaired. However, modifying other digital devices, including vehicles, remains subject to more severe legal protection.
Since the number of embedded electronics is growing fast, this one battle is a needle in the haystack in the right to repair. Furthermore, the growing complexity of electronics and what constitutes a modification, repair, or tinkering will be ripe for court discussions.
The “right To Repair the more expensive items is good to have been won. But there is more to be done, which would be to either mandate that even the somewhat less costly items be made repairable. I am referencing all of those “Design for assembly” packages that snap together and can not be opened without breaking at least the closure segments, or even much of the housing. But the principle is similar even though the pain is much different.