The problems of monopolized repair are not new, the legislative solutions are not new, but our organization is relatively new.
Our organization dates back on July of 2013 when several trade associations representing repair and resale businesses joined forces to create the Digital Right to Repair Coalition - a New Jersey 501 (c) 6 non-profit corporation. This is our story.
Manufacturers have had the incentive to monopolize repair since the dawn of the computer era. As early as 1956 IBM was found in contempt of anti-monopoly laws, and was forced to allow a market for used equipment and independent repair in the form of the 1956 Consent Decree. Repair became an openly competitive business which has been the norm for the computer industry until roughly 1996 - when the Consent Decree was completely lifted. Independent repair of computers has been in steady decline ever since.
Many types of equipment not technically considered "computers" have imitated the recent practices of the computer industry to monopolize repair. These industries usually have internal computer components, such as medical equipment, cell phones, ATMs, TVs,, Major appliances, Small Appliances, and more.
Autos are computers too.
Separately, and without any obvious linkage, the auto industry also discovered the advantages of using the presence of computers to monopolize repair. Repair of cars became limited exclusively to "Dealers" - creating a false mystery surrounding repair and forcing consumers to cease doing their own repairs or using local (and fully competent) mechanics. By 2002 aftermarket automotive businesses - from local repair mechanics to parts stores to tool vendors were suffering the pinch. They began pressing for Automotive Right to Repair in Congress - where is went nowhere. The aftermarket auto industry wisely pivoted to state action -- where in 2012 they were able to pass the first Automotive Right to Repair Law in the country.
Copyright Law and the Right to Repair
In 1998 the US Congress modernized copyright law in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which attempted to better protect digital content. Although it was written largely by the content industry, it included a new section (Section 117) pulled from The Computer Maintenance Competition Assurance Act intended to preserve the option of independent repair. Section 117 was included with notes that indicated it wasn't complete (it wasn't). Section 1201 - the famous "Anti-Circumvention" provision has effectively overwhelmed Section 117.
The DMCA of 1998 gave new monopoly power to any manufacturer smart enough to claim copyright protection for any tools or access. Most manufacturers were more than happy to claim protections even if there was no infringement because of the clear profit potential of destroying competition for both repair and competition from their own used equipment.
In less than 4 years we have passed cell phone unlocking in Congress, put 12 Right to Repair bills into state legislatures, won exemptions from the Librarian of Congress for repair and tinkering of cell phones, tablets, medical equipment, and motorized land vehicles. We continue to work with Congress for major revisions needed to Copyright Law as it impacts matters of use and repair.
1956 The IBM Consent Decree The US DOJ Anti-Trust Division found IBM to be a monopoly and required them to allow for a used equipment market and independent repair. The Consent Decree was not lifted until 1996. Independent repair of computers has been in steady decline as the computing industry re-monopolized.
1992 Kodak V Image Technical Services Supreme Court ruling requires Kodak cease monopolizing repair. This ruling is almost the entire body of anti-trust law related to repair until the 2012 case of AVAYA v Continuant.
2001 Motor Vehicles Right to Repair Act S.2617 Filed in 107th Congress The first of many attempts by the automotive aftermarket to restore independent repair. It took a State Law passed in Massachusetts in 2012 to spur the industry to cooperate.
2008 Supreme Court Okays Cellphone Unlocking The cell phone unlocking battle spurs owners rights, digital rights advocates, and ordinary citizens to further action.
2010 Oracle blocks independent repair for SUN equipment, creating the impetus for IT B2B industry action. The Service Industry Association creates their International Customer Competitiveness Committee to work on restoring competition. This group becomes one of the original founders of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition.
2012 Automotive Right to Repair Passes Unanimously in the MA Legislature The bill showed how right to repair can be approached in states.
2012 Cell Phone Unlocking Becomes Illegal This gets a lot of people upset, including our own Sina Khanifar who inspired 116,000 people to contact the White House demanding their right to unlock their phones.
2012 Supreme Court rules in favor of used market in Kirtsaeng v Wiley Advocates from ASCDI, eBay and many others file critical Amicus Briefs on this matter. ASCDI becomes one of the founding members of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition
2013 Unlocking Cell Phone Petition gets attention in Congress and the White House. iFixit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, FixtheDMCA.org become founding members of the Digital Right to Repair Coaltion
2013 July - The Digital Right to Repair Coalition is Incorporated. Founders include SIA, ASCDI, IAMERS EFF, and iFixit.
2013 AVAYA v Continuant Trial Finds AVAYA in Violation of Anti-Trust This case is the first since "Kodak" that specifically dealt with monopolization of repair. It is on appeal.
2014 Automotive Right to Repair Memorandum of Understanding is announced.
2015 January - New York Fair Repair Bill Filed
2015 January - Massachusetts Digital Right to Repair Bill Filed
2015 February - Minnesota Fair Repair Bill Filed
2015 February - DRTR puts 40,000 letters of support in front of the Librarian of Congress for repair-related exemption requests.
2016 January -Nebraska Fair Repair Bill Filed
We're just getting started !!