We Should Be Able to Fix Our Stuff Ourselves

From iPhones to John Deere equipment, corporations shouldn’t be holding needed repairs hostage.

In These Times Editors

TERRY LABAN

right to re•pair

noun

1. The idea that consumers should be able to fix things when they break without corporate restrictions

We stand on the shoulders of movements who have been fighting for working people for generations, and that’s why we are proud to pick up the fight to protect repair rights and the definition of ownership in the 21st century.” —From the Repair Association website at repair​.org

I’m already a disaster at DIY projects. Why should I care? 

Think back to your flip-phone or bulky tube TV of yesteryear. When they were on the fritz, you didn’t necessarily fix them yourself, but you may have turned to a local repair shop to get things sorted. Today, most of the repair options that await (when your iPhone starts glitching, for example) are deeply unpleasant. After trekking out to an Apple Store, an authorized genius” might ask for an exorbitant fee or, more often, just tell you to buy the newer model. John Deere restricts how its tractors can be repaired, hospital equipment manufacturers don’t share their repair documentation, and on. Right-to-repair advocates point out this situation is an intentional, controlled part of a planned obsolescence that creates waste and drives up repair fees.

Welp, OK. How bad is it though, really? 

Beyond the cost to your pocketbook, churning through electronic devices takes a huge toll on the environment in the form of tens of millions of tons of electronic waste each year. Then there’s the knock-on effect for the estimated 3 million repair and reuse professionals being put out of work by corporate behemoths. Finally, right-to-repair advocates warn, corporations are attempting to eliminate the entire concept of ordinary, personal ownership altogether. John Deere, for example, argues farmers no longer own” their products — they’re just licensing them.

So what can be done? 

In 2022, the state of New York passed the landmark Digital Fair Repair Act to ensure open access to repair, diagnostic and maintenance materials. The Repair Coalition is advocating for states to pass more legislation to ensure tinkerers can do their thing while pressuring the U.S. Copyright Office, the Federal Trade Commission and Congress to go after anticompetitive, anti-consumer practices. The concern is growing in popularity — and once we’ve admitted that faceless corporations shouldn’t have sole ownership of tractors and smartphones, maybe we can think of some other things we’d like to pry away from them, too.

This is part of ​“The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage on these ideas, see The Necessary Refuge of Third Places, Sealing Criminal Records Benefits Us All, and If You Like the Idea of a 4-Day Workweek, You’ll Love the 5-Hour Workday.

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Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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