right to repair

Right to Repair: The Great Debate, Drawing the Lines & a Compromise

Article Originally Published in The Retail Observer
Written by Dave Smith
UASA Board Director
Most Professional Servicer Contest Committee Chairman
Owner, Dave Smith Appliance Services, LLC

The question seems simple enough: if you buy something, shouldn’t you have the right to fix it yourself, or choose the technician you want to fix it for you? The reality is that this subject is far more complex than most folks realize.

In the 1920s, the CEO at GM came up with the idea that GM should continually innovate, adding features and new designs every few years. The result was that the public began wanting to replace their cars more often. But Henry Ford believed cars should be simpler, dependable, and that parts should be easy to change. That was the beginning of the Chevy vs. Ford rivalry, and the early roots of the right-to-repair philosophy.

Advances in technology continue to heat-up the debate, as the consequences become more clear. In 1979, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) proposed a set of standardized diagnostic codes and communication for all cars. Eventually, this recommendation would lead to the On-Board Diagnostics port (OBD) and standardized fault codes a decade later. How great would it be to have the same thing in the appliance service industry!

Enter the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It’s the international and federal treaty that rewrites the rules every three years to regulate the sharing of music, photos, software and more. You do not actually own the software on your computer – or your car, your phone or your appliance! You own the device and the hardware, but not the intellectual technology that drives it.

Manufacturers are legitimately concerned about their intellectual property rights, as they may have spent millions to acquire it. They also cite safety concerns, as they wish to deter the public from repairing appliances that are becoming increasingly complex, and they’re concerned about damages and lawsuits from botched repairs.

Right to repair advocates believe that since they have purchased the product, they should be able to repair or modify it any way that they desire. Throwing away devices that are only a couple of years old is wasteful. Products should be easy to fix, parts should be available, and the cost to repair ought to be cheaper.

The United Appliance Servicers Association (UASA) Board had discussions with both AHAM and the “Right to Repair” organization to get their sides, which led to formidable Virtual Happy Hours and Laundry Room Discussions. All of the parties had an opportunity to voice their concerns, as did the UASA membership. When UASA asked for feedback from membership, the results were predictable. Most independents and smaller shops sided with the right to repair, and most larger factory-authorized shops lined up with AHAM. Few wanted to share data with the public.

Obviously, this is a state-by-state legislative, international treaty, financial, intellectual property, environmental and very philosophical issue. This article is way too short to cover it all. At the end of the day, most of us are likely to take the side that will give us the best competitive advantage.

UASA’s nonprofit status restricts political activity, and our membership is so divided that the UASA Board recommends contacting AHAM or the Right to Repair group in your state if you wish to get involved.

Now the compromise… UASA and AHAM need to get together to discuss the UASA Approved Member Program!

The UASA Approved Member Program is an existing, proven method for service companies to demonstrate that they are qualified through the screening and vetting process. Every manufacturer may participate in sharing their technical information with our qualified members, and Sub Zero is already on board. We aren’t asking anyone to give up their secret sauce, only the technical service data necessary to repair the product. There are solutions that can better our industry through discussion and compromise, where maybe we can work out something for the already authorized servicers and defuse our little slice of the issue.

Ironically, one of the main points ALL sides are citing is safety. If a servicer is going to be out there repairing it anyway – and they are – they will need the technical information to do it safely; and a properly working product benefits everyone. Our mutual customers deserve well-informed technicians.

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