It’s been almost 50 years since the consumer protections afforded by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and 20 years since the founding of iFixit. We’ve been foretelling the Right to Repair for a while now, and in 2023, it’s finally here. New Yorkers, and by extension the rest of us, will now have the protected right to repair electronics. So what does that mean?
Starting December 28, 2023 anyone selling electronics at retail in New York will have to provide access to parts, tools, documentation, and software for products first manufactured on or after July 1, 2023.
Becoming compliant with the new legislation will require manufacturers to take significant steps in building repair ecosystems and support. Let’s break down the legislation, what it means, and what’s required for compliance:
Which Products Are Covered?
In short: consumer electronics sold at retail—which means just about anything with a price tag containing a chip—manufactured for the first time after July 1, 2023.
Defining Covered Products
The New York bill tackles the consumer electronic devices in most dire need of DIY repair, including things like the smartphone in your pocket. There are a few exceptions, namely appliances and farm equipment, which we’ll cover in more detail later. The bill covers all products sold at retail in New York, with a few exceptions that we’ll get into later.
At a high level, the law covers all consumer electronics—which these days, is just about anything with a chip—that are “offered for sale directly by a retail seller.” From the law, “digital electronic equipment” is anything that “depends for its functioning, in whole or in part, on digital electronics embedded in or attached to the product.”
A key part of that definition is direct retail sale. What sorts of products are not sold at retail? Anything that requires a custom negotiated sales contract like a custom-designed point of sale system or fleet of servers. Our rule of thumb is if a product has a publicly listed price, online or offline, then it’s generally available for retail sale.
Exempt Products With Existing or Imminent Repair Protections
New York has a number of other exclusions that are being targeted by other state bills. These product exemptions come in two flavors: products that are already protected elsewhere, and categories for which regulation is expected soon. Already protected categories include automobiles and heavy trucks, which have Right to Repair laws already on the books. Product categories that are excluded on the basis of expected upcoming legislation are appliances, farm equipment, medical equipment, e-bikes, and sundry categories like outdoor power equipment, power tools, alarm systems, battery backups, and industrial electrical equipment.
New York’s appliances exclusion applies broadly to white goods “including, but not limited to, refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, air conditioning, and heating units.” Brown goods such as vacuums, blenders, and food processors are considered electronics, not appliances, and are covered by the bill.
The Future of New York’s Remaining Exempt Products
Despite these exemptions, we expect similar regulations and requirements for these categories in the not too distant future. Given the high consumer desire for repairable appliances, as well as their decreasing lifespans and outsized impact on e-waste, appliances will almost certainly be covered by new regulations soon—it’s already happening in the EU. The US Federal Trade Commission is already working to implement a rule that will require public service documentation for appliances.
Other states are introducing laws targeting farm and construction equipment. Regulatory patience with John Deere’s service monopoly is wearing thin, and organizations like the FTC are ratcheting up enforcement.
Repair manuals and support documentation for devices used in a health care setting or procedure.View Device
The final categories with exemptions in the New York bill are newer product categories without a foundation of repair protections—such as e-bikes and medical devices. These products may see focused regulations (we’ve heard from state lawmakers working on bills specifically targeting those two device categories). As the pandemic has shown us, betting solely on authorized dealer repair networks is a bad idea, and lawmakers are taking notice. With even the White House calling for an end to repair monopolies, we expect change soon and are encouraging manufacturers to be ahead of the law.
When Will The Fair Repair Law Take Effect?
New York’s Right to Repair law goes into effect on December 28, 2023—one year after the bill’s final signing. In December, qualifying products manufactured for the first time, and first sold or used after July 2023 will be subject to the law.
The text is forward-looking, as most of the products covered shouldn’t need maintenance for a couple years—but accidental damage has no timeline. We’ve learned the hard way that out-of-warranty repair needs start on launch day, and companies should be prepared to comply with requests from consumers right away. It is very likely that future laws, either state or federal, will grandfather in older products.
Who Will Be Required to Provide Fair Repair Access?
In short—the manufacturers of qualifying products with existing repair architecture.
The New York legislation is based on the model bill from the Repair Association, and requires equality of access between the manufacturer’s repair locations, and consumers and independent repairers. The bill therefore limits repair requirements to manufacturers who have existing repair networks—reducing the burden of creating such systems. If a manufacturer does in-house repair, or provides authorized repair services, they must enable access to other repairers. The bill prevents manufacturers from restricting access to tools, parts, and documentation.
The Future of Repair Access Compliance
Europe is adding much more broad repair requirements that apply to all products, not just products that have an existing repair ecosystem. The French Repair scorecard, for example, is required for all laptops, smartphones, and several other categories of products. Future circular economy legislation in some US states is expected to cover more products.
What Does New York’s Right to Repair Law Require?
New York’s Right to Repair law will require “fair and reasonable” access to:
- Repair documentation, including board schematics
- Tools, including diagnostic software
Required Repair Documentation
Repair documentation is defined as materials required for repair, maintenance, and diagnosis. It specifies such materials as manuals, service codes, and schematic diagrams. This means that things like circuit schematics should be made accessible.
Given the breadth of documentation covered here, it’s very clear that the spirit and the letter of the law intend comprehensive access to all information needed to perform repairs. The documentation is also required to be freely accessible, unless requested in a physical media, at which point the cost of creation may be recouped.
This information must be publicly available, but does not need to exist on a manufacturer website. Partnerships with repair communities like iFixit, as Samsung and Google have done, are acceptable as long as manufacturer websites point repairers to a place where they can get the free information.
Required Tool Access
Tools are similarly broadly defined to include both physical tools and software programs that repair, maintain, pair, and even calibrate products. Access to tools can not require authorization or authentication. This section may well be the biggest win in the entire law, given the specific language addressing parts pairing, open access, and protections for a return to “full functionality.” Companies like Apple have anticipated this new law by bringing DIY repair to market, but their current implementation falls short of compliance by requiring Apple authorization for full-functionality repairs.
One concern that repair advocates have raised is regarding repair systems that require a login with a manufacturer’s standard sign on system. If you’re banned from Xbox Live for cheating, should you be blocked from repairing your Xbox? The New York law says no: tools must work “without requiring authorization.”
Required Replacement Part Access: Parts or Assemblies?
The definition of a replacement part can get complicated quickly. What’s a part and what’s an assembly? Could we consider an entire phone a part? The law mostly manages to stay in the realm of common sense: any part sold by the OEM for repair within their network, should be made available to independents at reasonable cost. New York’s law has an interesting exception, allowing bundled part assemblies solely where safety is concerned. This was aimed at allowing manufacturers to bundle batteries with other parts to avoid fire risk during disassembly.
Given the text proposed in other states, it is unlikely this exclusion will hold up—parts should be packaged and sold with the expectation that assemblies will be unacceptable parts. The bill does not require sale of components that populate circuit boards, although some advocates are pressing for this in future legislation.
One other exception in the bill: a last-minute edit exempted certain smartphone circuit boards where replacement could enable device cloning, or duplication of a phone’s IMEI number. We are confused by the intent of this exemption, because replacement smartphone circuit boards come with a new IMEI that makes the carrier networks treat it as a new phone. This is unlikely to impact implementations for manufacturers or repairers.
What Happens if Manufacturers Don’t Comply?
The law is enforced by the New York attorney general, who will give written notice to any manufacturers out of compliance. They will have five days after that notice to remedy the violation of the law, after which they’ll be subject to penalties. Any disagreements about definitions of covered products and whether given repair programs qualify will be up to the attorney general to address.
What’s Next for Right to Repair
As the walls around repair access begin to crumble, we expect to see a race to get systems in place to comply in time for the December 28 deadline. That deadline could move up—now that New York has set things in motion, other states will follow suit, filling in gaps and including additional product categories.
Right to Repair legislation has been brewing for a long time. The first domino has fallen, and New York is a very powerful domino indeed. As an organization that knows a thing or two about building public repair ecosystems, we can’t wait to see more manufacturers jump into the game.