The framers of the U.S. Constitution never envisioned future technology. Otherwise, they might have added the right to repair what you own to the Bill of Rights.
During the first century of our republic, self-reliant citizens fixed what broke or hired a blacksmith or wheelwright. Until the current millennium, repairing machines and other possessions did not involve patents and copyrights.
Two things changed that suddenly tied your hands when it came to tinkering with your own property.
Congress expanded the copyright act to cover more than just “artistic” content such as writing, artwork and music. At the same time, the complexity of devices, whether cellphones, cars or tractors, dramatically increased.
Manufacturers used this incredible leverage over consumers. They not only could withhold essential repair manuals and circuit diagrams, but also critical parts.
Furthermore, manufacturers claim that the micro-code buried within products remains their property, even though you just paid $1,200 for that smartphone or $500,000 for that new combine.
My former farming neighbor, Jimmy, avoided debt. Instead of buying the latest and greatest new machinery, he spent the winters tearing down his gear and rebuilding it. By spring, his machinery was as good as new.
Fortunately, he’s retired. Were he to attempt this today, John Deere would bust him and/or make his machinery inoperable unless he paid an authorized Deere technician to service his machinery using only genuine Deere parts.
Similarly, most people toss perfectly good smartphones when the battery fails or screen cracks, because manufacturers insist you return it to them for exorbitantly priced repairs.
They demand $60 to $100 to replace a $15 battery or $300 to replace a $100 cracked screen. Local stores do this work for much less, but companies such as Apple won’t sell them parts.
Some companies can even “brick” the phone if fixed by an unauthorized business.
Deere, Apple and their brethren possess very deep pockets to fight legislation giving you the right to repair what you own.
Although there are right-to-
repair bills percolating in Congress, these rights are more likely to succeed at the state level.
Right now, the Illinois House is considering, or possibly burying, the Digital Fair Repair Act,
HB 3061. It’s up to you to contact your representative to insist on support for this bill.
My Aug. 7 column about local service options inspired the above and the following reader email:
“My Dual 1219 turntable had a lot of hum, so I assumed it was time for a new cartridge. I was unsure what a good replacement for it might be, so I took the unit to Carl Stanford at Good Vibes to choose and install a new cartridge. When I was looking through the original 1219 box, I found a new idler pulley (no longer available) and a new brass idler drive spindle. I took these to Carl and asked him to install them.
“He reported back that: 1. The cartridge was fine and the needle good, 2. The problem was with the connection to the cartridge, 3. He installed the pulley, as the old one was quite worn. The drive spindle was for 50 hertz. Great work.
“I was playing the unit and noticed some rumble and reported this to Carl. He offered to stop by my house to pick the unit up and look at it. Who else would do that! I returned the 1219 to Carl. The rumble probably is caused by the rubber on the drive pulley getting hard (it was in the garage attic for 30 years. I was not careful removing the 1219 and ending up breaking a small plastic part in the arm-movement mechanism). Carl had to fabricate a replacement part (as no parts are available), so the unit now works fine, but the changer mechanism could not be fixed (OK as I never use it).”
Such local resources are priceless.