Right-To-Repair: Why We Care

Our nation’s copyright laws were created to foster knowledge, creativity and innovation, but there are too many examples today of how copyright law is abused to do just the opposite. When product manufacturers use copyright law to prevent consumers from repairing products they own, they stifle innovation, competition and progress.  

Software is ubiquitous today – in our cars, our phones, our thermostats and even our children’s toys. The internet of things has made life easier, more efficient and more fun, but it has also made things more complicated.

How do manufacturers control our devices with copyright? Manufacturers place special software called “digital rights management” (DRM) on a device to control access to copyrighted software. While it is perfectly legal to repair a device, copyright law makes it illegal to “break” the DRM in order to repair the device, unless the U.S. Copyright Office gives a special temporary exemption.

Examples of repairs prevented by Section 1201 include:

  • Adding text-to-speech features for the blind
  • Jailbreaking a phone
  • Repairing a tractor and other farm equipment or a car
  • Servicing medical equipment like MRI machines or ventilators
  • Fixing a video game console

When product manufacturers abuse copyright law to prevent consumers from doing perfectly legal activities, it shows the breadth and damage that can happen when the copyright system is abused by powerful industries. 

Re:Create and its members stand for a copyright system that is clear, simple, transparent, and balanced. Owners should have user rights in the devices and equipment they purchase and those rights  should be respected. The appropriate balance is needed between the rights of the software copyright holders and the property rights of consumers who buy “smart” devices and equipment. In a world where consumers are constantly using personal devices powered by software, it is more important than ever that consumers and businesses have the same capabilities and freedoms they have always enjoyed.