With the right to repair movement supported by the Biden administration, US Copyright Office expands legal shield to fix tech goods
The US Copyright Office has waded into the right to repair movement, that has been gathering pace of late and is now being supported by the US President.
The Verge reported that the US Copyright Office is expanding a legal shield for fixing digital devices, including cars and medical devices.
It comes after the office submitted new exemptions to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which bans breaking software copy protection.
Right to repair
The resulting rules now include a revamped section on device repair.
According to the Verge, the Register of Copyrights recommends Section 1201 “anti-circumvention” exemptions every three years, a process that has offered legal protections for everything from unlocking cellphones to ripping DVD clips for classroom use.
In addition to renewing these and several other exemptions, this latest rulemaking adopts repair-related proposals from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, iFixit, and other organisations.
The Librarian of Congress adopted the recommendations in a final rule that will take effect this week.
The exemptions essentially replace an itemised list of repairable devices with broad protections for any consumer devices that rely on software to function, as well as land and sea vehicles and medical devices that aren’t consumer-focused.
The Verge says the rulemaking doesn’t rewrite the exemption to cover all non-consumer devices, and it doesn’t cover all “modification,” only “diagnosis, maintenance, and repair.”
For video game consoles specifically for example, repair only covers repairing the device’s optical drives and requires reenabling any technological protection measures that were circumvented afterward.
“The petitioners did a good job of showing commonalities across different types of devices,” Acting General Counsel Kevin Amer was quoted as saying on a phone call with reporters. “We also are aware of some of the efforts that the executive branch has undertaken in this area,” including an executive order from the Biden administration supporting third-party and consumer repair work. “We do think that this exemption will be useful and will help to facilitate that type of activity.”
US President Joe Biden is soon expected to sign an executive order asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to draw up rules on the repair of farming equipment.
It would give farmers “the right to repair their own equipment how they like”, the president’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, has previously been quoted as saying.
And there is an expectation that the rules could go further and take in consumer electronic devices such as phones or game consoles.
And there are signs that the right to repair movement is gathering pace in countries other than the United States.
In July the UK government introduced new legislation which obliges manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers so appliances can be fixed.
The so called ‘right to repair’ law means that appliances such as fridges, washing machines and electronics should last longer (up to 10 years) and be cheaper to run under the new rules.
It is fair to say that repairing existing technology and household goods has been an issue for many decades, not helped by resistance from certain manufacturers.
But pressure has resulted in some changes. In August 2019 for example, Apple confirmed it would, for the first time ever, supply genuine parts to independent repair shops.
Yet that doesn’t mean its official position on the matter has changed much.
The European Parliament has also voted in favour of establishing stronger “right to repair” laws that will ensure that goods can be repaired for up to 10 years, in order to to reduce electrical waste.
It comes after years of complaints from consumers that goods are nowadays have a limited lifespan, and are often more expensive to repair than simply purchasing a new piece of equipment.
Some goods at best are highly difficult to repair, or indeed cannot be repaired in the home at all.
And to show that this is not a new problem, in 2010 repair firm Comtek launched a petition, claiming that manufacturers were killing the repair business to drive new sales.
That petition 11 years ago urged the government to abolish value-added tax (VAT) on IT repairs, as a way to encourage users to get most value out of their IT, and reduce the country’s carbon footprint.
And the consequences of growing amount of old equipment can be serious.
For years developing nations have been nothing more than dumping grounds for the western world’s toxic electrical waste, putting local children at serious risk of brain and kidney damage, respiratory illness, developmental and behavioural disorders, and even cancer.