US rubber stamps right to repair: What it means for IT, SMBs, and tinkerers

The previous copyright law that only allowed big manufacturers to fix tech products has finally been lifted. Here's what that means for techies.

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The tech repair community saw a major victory with the new ruling regarding the freedom to tinker, according to a recent blog post from Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. Wiens represented the iFixit community six months ago in a Los Angeles courtroom, petitioning for the right of product owners to fix their own devices, rather than send them back to a manufacturer.

Previously, section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) made it illegal for tech gadget owners to circumvent locks placed on products by manufacturers. This law shifted the control over tech products from the owners to the big manufacturers, said Wiens, preventing small shops and IT pros from fixing their own devices.

SEE: SMB security pack: Policies to protect your business (Tech Pro Research)

On October 28, however, the ruling finally changed in favor of tinkerers. Included in the ruling's intro is the quote "[i]t's my own damn car, I paid for it, I should be able to repair it or have the person of my choice do it for me."

Effective immediately, here are the five major freedoms the new ruling granted, according to Wiens.

1. You can now jailbreak Alexa-powered hardware, and other similar gadgets--they call these 'Voice assistant devices.'

2. You can unlock new phones, not just used ones. This is important for recyclers that get unopened consumer returns.

3. We got a general exemption for repair of smartphones, home appliances, or home systems. This means that it's finally legal to root and fix the Revolv smart home hubs that Google bricked when they shut down the servers. Or pretty much any other home device.

4. Repair of motorized land vehicles (including tractors) by modifying the software is now legal. Importantly, this includes access to telematic diagnostic data--which was a major point of contention.

5. It's now legal for third-parties to perform repair on behalf of the owner. This is hugely important for the American economy, where repair jobs represent 3% of overall employment.

Unfortunately, the game console repair petition was denied, which means repairs of PS4 and Xbox One systems will have to remain in manufacturers' hands, said Wiens. Additionally, "smartphones, home appliances, or home systems" or "motorized land vehicles" are now included in the ruling, which means boat and airplane owners don't benefit, added Wiens. And the copy protection on HDMI for expanding the TV repair ecosystem was also denied.

The positive ruling, however, is huge for small businesses, IT professionals, and gadget owners wanting to tinker with their devices. Now tinkerers don't have to send off their devices to get fixed, and SMBs and IT pros can increase business by fixing device problems directly themselves.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • An LA court ruled in favor of gadget tinkerers, making it legal for people other than big manufacturers to fix devices on their own.
  • The ruling could increase business for SMBs and IT pros and make it much less expensive for users to get their devices fixed.

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Image: iStockphoto/Milkos