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Oregon debates consumer electronics right-to-repair bill

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Oregon’s SB 542 would require OEMs to make the same information they give to authorized repair shops available to independent shops and consumers. | JIPEN/Shutterstock

Public testimony on a proposed consumer electronics right-to-repair bill in Oregon spilled over into two days, with 19 speaking in favor and eight speaking against. 

The Oregon Senate Committee on Energy and Environment heard public testimony on SB 542 on Feb. 9 and Feb. 14, with 27 people signed up to speak. 

The bill would require OEMs to make available to owners of consumer electronics or independent repair providers any documentation, tool, part or other device that the OEM makes available to authorized repair providers, on fair and reasonable terms. That includes software and hardware. 

“Fair and reasonable” means that the documentation and tools would be provided at no charge unless there is a cost to print or ship them, that parts are sold at costs “equivalent to the most favorable costs and terms” the OEM offers to authorized repair providers, and that there is no obligation for independent repair providers or device owners to become authorized repair providers. 

It also gives anyone who suffers “ascertainable loss of money or property” due to an OEM’s failure to comply the right to bring legal action to recover the greater of the actual damages or statutory damages of $1,000. That includes class action lawsuits. 

It does not require OEMs to disclose any trade secrets, unless they’re necessary for repair, and does not impose liability on the OEM for any bodily injury or damage to the devices due to independent repairs. 

The draft bill excludes motor vehicles, anything that is not available for retail sale to a consumer, devices covered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, HVAC systems and solar power systems. 

Sen. Janeen Sollman, chair of the committee and a sponsor of the bill, told her fellow committee members that “this is about the environment. This is about consumer protection and small business support. It is about your right to repair.” 

“My belief is if you own it you should be able to choose where and how you repair it, but all too often the only option available to you is to have your device fixed through the manufacturer,” she said on Feb. 9. 

She noted that previous attempts to pass a consumer electronics right-to-repair bill were very broad, and this one is more specific about what it covers. 

Concerns over privacy, copyright

Those opposing the bills included Tara Ryan with the Entertainment Software Association, which represents clients such as Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, as well as other video game makers. 

Ryan said right-to-repair bills pose a particularly high risk to game consoles because sharing information about the device can allow more people to pirate games, putting copyright and intellectual property at risk. 

“Game consoles have a unique issue that has to be addressed,” she said. 

Sollman said she had been working with the Entertainment Software Association on the issue and considerations being made over the “strong argument.” 

Ashley Sutton, executive director of technology industry group TechNet, also opposed the bill, arguing that there was a risk to consumer privacy if they went to independent repair shops. 

“It creates more opportunities for bad actors to snoop on consumers,” she said. 

Sollman said privacy violations were not limited to independent repair shops, but often happen at authorized shops as well, pointing out a 2021 settlement in which Apple paid a University of Oregon student millions of dollars over a privacy breach during a repair. 

“This is a situation we should be concerned about all around,” she added. 

Paul Roberts, founder of Secure Repairs, a group of IT professionals who support the right to repair, said on Feb. 14 that “there is no cyber risk in repair” that is not already present with OEM repair programs. 

He pointed out that “all opponents of this bill you’re hearing are generally industry lobbyists and in support are members of your community.” 

The Oregon Liability Reform Coalition is concerned about a liability provision in the bill, Fawn Barrie told the committee, which is why the organization opposes it. 

“The concern is that Oregon will become a test case for deciding what is and is not a trade secret,” she said, adding that “we think it opens the door and sets a dangerous precedent.” 

Barrie suggested putting the issue under the purview of the attorney general, and Sollman said she had been working with the organization on its concerns as well. 

Walter Alcorn with the Consumer Technology Association opposed the bill and said he would prefer a national bill “to avoid a patchwork of varying legal mandates.” 

“Our fear is it would do more for the legal industry and lawyers than the repair industry,” he said, also bringing up concerns about consumer safety risks with self-repair.

Members of the committee pushed Alcorn on whether the organization was moving to get such a bill introduced federally. Alcorn said they were working on a model bill. 

Charlie Fisher, Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) state director, addressed the safety concerns opponents brought up by pointing out that “fixing the brakes on my car, which weighs thousands of pounds, is inherently more dangerous than replacing a battery in a phone and yet I can do it myself, I can take it to anyone I want and there’s no restrictions on the information or parts and tools.” 

Access, equity and environmental benefits  

Fisher added that SB 542 would save people money and support independent local repair businesses. Fisher compared the situation to getting a car repaired at a dealership versus a local mechanic, saying there are pros and cons to each but if he chooses to go to a local mechanic, he knows that they will have the right parts and tools. 

“That’s what we’re trying to replicate for the electronics market,” he said. 

Juan Muro, executive director of nonprofit refurbisher Free Geek, supported the bill and held up a 2021 Macbook, sharing that he received 55 of those laptops and had to destroy all of them instead of refurbishing them because he could not get the hard drives properly wiped without help from Apple. 

“We have the solution for technology reuse,” he told the committee. “And we now need your help.”  

Committee members asked why more independent shops didn’t become authorized repair shops. Romain Griffith, owner of independent repair shop Hyperion Computerworks, said he had looked into becoming an Apple certified technician, but the requirements included committing to sales targets of new devices and agreeing to restrictions on which devices he would be able to repair and what repairs could be made. The weight of the requirements was not worth getting access to the information, he said. 

Erick Reddekopp, co-owner of  independent repair shop Geeks4Mac, responded to arguments that the information the bill would require OEMs to share would pose a risk to intellectual property. He said he used to work for Apple and there was “nothing I had as an employee that could be considered proprietary.” 

The restrictions have created black market for manuals, he added, as businesses work to support “a niche of people that have older systems that Apple will not help.” 

Other supporters included Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO; Jenna Jones, Oregon Metro Regional Government state and regional affairs advisor; and Meghan Moyer, public policy director for Disability Rights Oregon. 

Others in opposition included Dustin Brighton, Repair Done Right Coalition director; John Keane, manager of government relations for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers; and Scott Bruun, vice president of government affairs for Oregon Business and Industry. 

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