Nobody agrees what “Right to Repair” actually means

Right to Repair: Almost everyone supports it, it will make our devices more repairable, but if you look closely: the definition of what Right to Repair actually is and entails constantly changes based on who you talk to.

Note: This table is an oversimplification of their definitions of R2R and does not include all necessary nuances to make a point. I apologize for any errors. It is also possible I’m just splitting hairs, though I think some real differences do appear near the end of the article.

OEM Parts for saleSchematics, Diagrams Publicly AvailableBoard-level partsRepairable Design Requirements*Aftermarket or 3rd-party Parts OK
Not addressed in definition of R2R.

Considered Rossmann’s opinion below a “good take.”

Considered Rossmann’s opinion below a “good take.”

Not addressed in definition of R2R.
Louis Rossmann
Schematics and diagrams for board-level repair should be publicly available.

“Don’t tell the company that made this part they can’t sell it.” [paraphrased]

“I don’t want right to repair to push my personal preference for design on consumers.”

If it’s cheaper, and customer chooses, should be OK.
“repair information like software tools and schematics should be available”

Not addressed. Primary focus is OEM parts – as evidenced by iPhone 14 obtaining 7/10 repairability.

Repair score penalizes companies that make difficult-to-repair items.
“companies block repair in all kinds of other sneaky ways. Sometimes they glue in batteries with industrial-strength adhesives… etc.”

“legalize modifying your own property to suit your own purposes.” (Also tests and resells batteries.) Obviously against counterfeiting, but also explicitly against locking out 3rd-party parts.
Hugh Jeffreys
Not addressed.

Not addressed.

Against digital locks (like others), talks about physical repairability requirements as being an R2R issue.

“has become a big market for scammers.” Not addressed in R2R definition.
Linus Tech Tips
Calls for parts and “components,” never mentions schematics. Seems to almost explicitly say this is not Right to Repair, as one should not be able to replicate a patented product.

“Right to access manufacturer components and resources to repair their devices when required.”

Defined in one video as being “Beyond Right to Repair”.

“So it sure is a good thing that no-one is calling for that either!”
✓ = Included in public definition they give, ✗ = Not mentioned in their definition (though they may not be opposed, they just didn’t mention it as an R2R issue)

Note that the table above only considers how they defined Right-to-Repair, even though all of them would almost certainly support the following in other capacities even if it wasn’t in their R2R definition:

  • “OEM Parts Publicly for Sale” means if the manufacturer sells batteries, screens, sensors – those should be available for sale to anyone.
  • “Schematics Publicly Available” means that the manufacturer should provide all circuit information about how a device is assembled.
  • Board-level parts refers to the sale of proprietary chips and other unique parts, down to the level they are indivisible. (I.e. a specific power management chip, not a whole logic board.)
  • Design Requirements refers to a manufacturer being forced to make easier-to-repair products, not just make products that have parts available. Some call this Right to Repairable Design. (Both views do not consider digital locks acceptable, so an ✗ does not mean they are ignoring blocking digital locks as a design requirement.)
  • Aftermarket Parts OK refers to whether Right-to-Repair should explicitly prevent companies from blocking aftermarket Batteries or Screens. Others believe it is tolerable for aftermarket or 3rd-party parts.

Now, the above table lacks nuance and is not perfect, I know, and I’m probably going to get corrections (that’s fine, check back later for some, I’m not perfect at this). However, if I can boil down the schisms, it appears to be this:

  • R2R activists aren’t sure whether manufacturers should be simply required to provide OEM parts that they themselves have; or to be required to provide all proprietary individual components as well.
  • R2R activists don’t know whether companies like Apple should be prevented from blocking 3rd party batteries or similar; though they are unanimously against preventing swapping or installing OEM parts.
  • R2R activists don’t agree on whether (outside of digital locks) a manufacturer should be forced to make certain design decisions to make repairability easier.

Until we can unanimously define what Right to Repair actually entails, success is going to be hampered with confusion. I would argue, personally, the following:

  • Right to Repair should be the ability to obtain OEM parts and manuals, and to not have digital locks preventing repair without the manufacturer’s consent.
  • Right to Repairable Design should be restrictions on part serialization (for preventing counterfeiting), use of Phillips or other common screws, restrictions on excessive adhesive, etc.
  • Right to Advanced Repair should be right to obtain schematics, proprietary information, and individual components that is not attempted by the OEM’s own repair policies (i.e. most OEMs don’t do board-level repair). Basically, Right to Repair beyond what the OEM would attempt.

Splitting these issues up helps clarify exactly what each term means, and we should arguably fight for them all regardless, but without overlap. But that’s just my opinion on how to make things clearer.

Published by Gabriel Sieben

Gabriel Sieben is a software developer from St. Paul, MN, who enjoys experimenting with computers and loves to share his various technology-related projects. He owns and runs this blog, and is a traditional Catholic. In his free time (when not messing with computers), he enjoys hiking, fishing, and board games.

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