The FSF fights for your right to repair
by Zoe Kooyman Published on Jan 07, 2021 06:25 PM
The world is becoming more software-driven, and manufacturers are increasingly controlling access to the software on their devices. That makes it almost impossible to do some repairs, or to assert ownership.
You can't even begin to repair something if you can't open it up and look at it. You can't do the repair if you aren't allowed to move the parts around or add your own new parts. When the "something" is software, this means you need to be able to look inside that software and at its source code, and you need to be able -- and allowed -- to change it. If you don't like to do repairs yourself, you need to be able to choose any repair person you trust to do them.
In a WIRED opinion piece, Kyle Wiens, founder of the popular electronic repair company iFixit, and one of the spear headers of the right to repair movement, said, "As long as we’re limited in our ability to modify and repair things, copyright -- for all objects -- will discourage creativity. It will cost us money. It will cost us jobs. And it’s already costing us our freedom."
Nathan Proctor, who leads the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)’s Right to Repair campaign, spoke to Grist saying, "If you like democracy and freedom, then you should like right to repair. I believe average citizens should have the power to fix things... We should make it easier for them to take matters into their own hands, for the sake of our collective future."
For a more elaborate introduction to the Right to Repair from Nathan, you can watch his presentation at the FSF's LibrePlanet conference in 2019.
The right to repair and free software
Cars are accelerating their transition from purely mechanical technology to relying on software. This means that any meaningful notion of repair has to include user rights over that software. Without the freedom to run, modify, distribute, and share the software ourselves, we are now putting our lives at the mercy of manufacturers.
One example is Tesla, who have introduced a subscription controlled by Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) for their (not your) car to keep it active and updated while it is with you. They also obstruct access for general repairs, and used or recycled structural parts are not allowed. Nonfree software is making it impossible to see what the software does, or whether it is safe and up to date, or to make it safe when you know it is not. The right to repair would give more control to owners and make us less dependent on the manufacturer and their intentions; in this case, Tesla, who won't let anyone else repair the bugs in their code, even the security researchers who can steal the car in seconds.
Tesla's developments are an indication of where the future of electronics is taking us, which is a future that is dangerously dependent on proprietary software. But they are far from the only example here. Farmers suffer a similar fate, with manufacturers of tractors insisting farmers do not own their tractors, but they merely receive a license to operate the vehicle. This makes it nearly impossible to repair certain older models when manufacturers decide to no longer maintain the software, which forces farmers into purchasing new equipment. Freedom to share, study, and modify the software would guarantee a more sustainable business model for farmers, as well as protect their freedom.
It is this example of automated vehicles that served as inspiration for the FSF's animated video Fight to Repair.
However, any technology we use could potentially be co-opted by the proprietary, DRM-controlled subscription model Tesla and the tractor manufacturers are proposing. Imagine your "smart home" having a broken lock, or worse, being broken into, and not having the control, or the simple right to repair the bug. Countless other examples can be found showing us that the key to a free future is the right to repair. We need to fight for a future in which the software used is free in order to maintain ownership and control not only over our technology, but over our lives.
Resources
Thankfully, there are many organizations, advocates and innovators who are driving the right to repair movement globally. There are always ways you can help.
Help the community collect related information, news, and resources on our LibrePlanet wiki page.
Share the FSF's Fight to Repair video and the reasons you think we need to #FightToRepair.
Sign up to the FSF's newsletter the Free Software Supporter where we keep you up to date on free software news, including what happens in the right to repair movement.
Advocacy around the world
We join with other organizations who have been doing excellent work on the issue of Right to Repair, including:
IFixit; repair guides for every thing, written by everyone, activists, and major resource
Repair.org; the leading US advocacy group for right to repair
Repair.eu; the EU focused advocacy group for right to repair
Restart Project; a founding member of the right to repair campaign in Europe
SecureRepairs; led by Paul Roberts, where you'll find updated resources and a blog on why the right to repair is at the core of advancement of the technology industry
US PIRG; led by Nathan Proctor, the U.S. PIRG Right to Repair campaign drives legislation at the state level
If you have any questions or information to share directly with the team, you can contact us at campaigns@fsf.org.
Quotes from the community
Far from posing a risk to security, repair fosters security in our homes, communities, governments and businesses. By erecting barriers – whether monetary or logistic – to owners being able to repair or service their property, manufacturers create the conditions by which needed repairs or maintenance will be delayed or put off entirely. This, in turn, creates the environment in which malicious actors thrive. -- SecureRepairs Statement of Principles
Just let us fix our stuff. -- Nathan Proctor, US PIRG
Related work by the FSF
The FSF also runs the Defective by Design campaign, which fights to eliminate Digital Restrictions Management.
"The right to repair" by Alison Chaiken
"EPA opposed DMCA exemptions that could have revealed Volkswagen fraud" by Donald Robertson
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