Apple spends big to thwart right to repair in New York and elsewhere


Apple’s new campus. “The glass fins that protrude from the Ring at every floor are sloped at a slight downward angle to regulate light and glare. They also prevent rain from streaking down what Ive describes as the “miles of glass” that make up the Ring’s walls.” PHOTO/Wired

Motherboard ran an interesting piece this week, Apple Is Lobbying Against Your Right to Repair iPhones, New York State Records Confirm, reporting on the money Apple, Verizon, and other tech trade associations are spending to thwart right to repair legislation pending in nearly a dozen states, including New York.

I first wrote about some these initiatives in January of this year, in this post, Waste Not, Want Not: Right to Repair Laws on Agenda in Some States, which discusses New York efforts as well as other initiatives to reject the throwaway culture, not only for electronics but also for other items.

Motherboard has been following this topic closely. From the latest account:

The bill, called the “Fair Repair Act,” would require electronics companies to sell replacement parts and tools to the general public, would prohibit “software locks” that restrict repairs, and in many cases would require companies to make repair guides available to the public. Apple and other tech giants have been suspected of opposing the legislation in many of the 11 states where similar bills have been introduced, but New York’s robust lobbying disclosure laws have made information about which companies are hiring lobbyists and what bills they’re spending money on public record.

Apple’s not the only company seeking to kill the New York legislation, and a motley crew of others seek the same general objective, as Motherboard reports:

According to New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Apple, Verizon, Toyota, the printer company Lexmark, heavy machinery company Caterpillar, phone insurance company Asurion, and medical device company Medtronic have spent money lobbying against the Fair Repair Act this year. The Consumer Technology Association, which represents thousands of electronics manufacturers, is also lobbying against the bill.

BoingBoing last week in Apple, CTA and Big Car are working in secret to kill New York’s Right to Repair legislation spelled out details of the nub of company objections:

The companies are especially opposed to rules that ban using [Digital Rights Management] to prevent the use of third-party parts and spares — it’s become common practice to embed just enough software handshaking in replacement parts to invoke section 1201 of the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act], which makes it a felony to bypass “effective means of access control” for copyrighted works. A manufacturer who designs their device to use (copyrighted) software to validate spare parts — something John Deere has become notorious for — can then invoke the DMCA to make it a felony, punishable by a five-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine, to make compatible components.

The BoingBoing article highlights a further irony:

Every company lobbying against competitors making compatible products has benefited greatly from their own competitive compatibility products: for example, Apple ran a high-profile, extremely successful marketing campaign (the Switch campaign) that advised potential customers on how to use Apple products to access files created with Microsoft products.

Classic Collective Action Problem

What popped out from the Motherboard account was the discrepancy between the resources being spent by Apple and other anti-right-to-repair forces, compared to those in favor of a right to repair. Again, from Motherboard:

The records show that companies and organizations lobbying against right to repair legislation spent $366,634 to retain lobbyists in the state between January and April of this year. Thus far, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition—which is generally made up of independent repair shops with several employees—is the only organization publicly lobbying for the legislation. It has spent $5,042 on the effort, according to the records.

Now, just to be clear– and to reinforce a point made in the Motherboard article– thwarting right to repair laws is only one of many issues that Apple et al’s lobbyists are no doubt acting on, so to make a straight up comparison of total resources spent by concerned companies no doubt overstates the magnitude of the discrepancy with respect to this single issue.

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