Growing Action on the “Right to Repair”: A Brief Survey

By: Jordyn Michaels

Right to repair is the ability for an individual to alter, repair, or customize their electronic device.[i] Companies have developed manufacturing methods in which certain parts of a company’s product are developed intentionally to be irreplaceable and cannot be switched out with 3rd party parts in the event of a malfunction.[ii] Due to the integration of electronic equipment into a variety of devices and tools across industries, right to repair has become a substantial issue. Right to repair is an issue in the personal electronic space for devices such as smartphones and tablets but, also is present in computers, cars, medical equipment and even agriculture. [iii] This barrier is intentionally created for a variety of reasons, and advocates against right to repair note that this allows companies to maintain an advantage to protect consumer security, as well as their intellectual property.[iv] However, the likely reality is that companies interest is centered around growing profits, in which the user is left without a cost effective way to repair their device and they are forced to purchase a new one. In addition to the added financial costs to the consumer, there are growing environmental concerns of unnecessary electronic waste due to the constant need to replace whole items as opposed to just specific broken parts.[v] There are growing antitrust concerns that have fueled recent movements in legislation on both the federal and state level.[vi]

Although the right to repair has been in discussion for several years, the first federal legislation was purposed in August 2020. This legislation, know as “The Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020” targeted medical device manufactures during the height of the Covid Pandemic.[vii] The bill was designed to remove intellectual property barriers to  allow vital medical equipment such as ventilators to be repaired as there was not enough time nor resources for hospitals to wait for new equipment.[viii] It would give opportunity for individuals to produce patented parts needed to repair these machines for non-commercial purposes because they are in such dire need.[ix] Although this bill was never passed, due to the new strains of COVID, it may not be surprising if this issue gets revisited again as hospitals are now again faced with tragedy as there are not enough medical devices to nurse the sick.

President Biden passed an extensive Executive Order addressing the right to repair as a part of the administration’s antirust agenda in order to promote competition across domestic industries.[x] A portion of the order urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to force agricultural and tech companies to allow their consumers the right to repair their items.[xi] The idea is to make all manuals, tools, and code open to the public so that consumers and repairmen are able to fix and/or customize their devices in anyway they can. This July 2021 order is aimed at large manufactures such as Tesla, Apple, and John Deere.[xii] Just two months earlier, the FTC released a report outlining ways large manufactures were making it impossible for individuals to repair their own devices.[xiii] FTC argued that this not only is a burden to the consumer but, creates serious barriers to competition in the industry.[xiv] Following Biden’s executive order, the committee voted to use the strictest and most severe law enforcement measures possible using various antitrust statutes in order to prevent large manufactures from preventing consumer from fixing their devices.[xv] Further, they are urging individuals to file complaints when encountering this issue through the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.[xvi]

Similar to the Executive Order passed by the Biden Administration, in June 2021, New York Congressman Morelle introduced the “Fair Repair Act”.[xvii] This would provide independent repairmen and consumers direct access to device manuals, tools, and software in order to repair their devices on their own.[xviii] This is expansive legislation that covers devices ranging from consumer technology such as smart phones to farming equipment. Further, this bill sets up a penalty structure that the FTC can use to enforce this law and hold manufactures accountable.[xix]

On the state level, the most successful frontier on the right to repair has been in the automotive industry. Although several states have proposed legislation on this particular issue, Massachusetts is the first state to enact a right to repair in the automotive industry.[xx] There is a pending ballot initiative in Massachusetts to expand the 2012 law to add access to “telematics”, which will allow consumers to access the data collected on cars that determine their statues and can be used to detect any pending problems.[xxi] As far as the digital right to repair goes, at least 25 states such as South Dakota, Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado, New Jersey, and Virginia all have bills specific to this issue that were at least filed and currently pending further action.[xxii] The New York state senate recently passed a ground breaking law on the digital right to repair.[xxiii] Although it has still yet to pass the assembly, people are optimistic about the outcome of this cutting-edge legislation. New York’s law takes an antitrust approach as well as it seems to break up the monopolies of electronic manufactures by giving consumers more opportunity in dictating the lifespan of their devices. It also specifically targets the growing concern of electronic waste.[xxiv] Such policy points in this legislation seem to be the standard template in right to repair legislation across the country. New York is expected to the be the test to other states around the country with pending legislation as the furthest along.

For the foreseeable future, most of the progress one can expect on the right to repair movement will be achieved at the state level. However, this is popular and relatively non-partisan issue. Therefore, movement on the federal level especially during this current administration that has been very outspoken in supporting the right to repair is entirely possible.

[i] Thorin Klosowski, What You Should Know About Right to Repair, The New York Times (July 15, 2021).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Cody Godwin, Right to repair movement gains power in US and Europe, BBC News (July 7, 2021).

[iv] Id.

[v] Jason Tashea, The fix is in: How right-to-repair laws can improve tech and the environment, ABAJournal (Sept. 17, 2018)

[vi] William Lewallen, Right to repair and anti-trust – How monopolisation hurts consumers and competition, Mutual Interest Media (May 19, 2020),

[vii] Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020, H.R.7956, 116th Cong. (2020).

[viii] Wyden and Clarke Introduce Bill to Eliminate Barriers to Fixing Critical Medical Equipment During the Pandemic, Ron Wyden United Senator for Oregon (Aug. 6, 2020),

[ix] Id.

[x] Exec. Order No. 14,036, § 1, 86 Fed. Reg. at 36,988.

[xi] FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, The White House (July 9, 2021),

[xii] Jennifer Alsever, What Biden’s ‘right to repair’ order could mean for Apple and Tesla, Fortune (Jul. 9, 2021).

[xiii]FTC Report to Congress Examines Anti-Competitive Repair Restrictions, Recommends Ways to Expand ConsumersRepair Options, Federal Trade Commission (May 6, 2021),

[xiv] Id.

[xv] FTC to Ramp Up Law Enforcement Against Illegal Repair Restrictions, Federal Trade Commission (July 21, 2021),

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Fair Repair Act, H.R. 4006, 117th Cong. (2021).

[xviii] Matthew Gault, National Right-to-Repair Bill Filed in Congress, Vice Media Group (June 17, 2021),

[xix] Id.

[xx] Diana Ransom, Why This Massachusetts Law Will Have Huge Implications for Manufacturers Nationwide, Inc. (Nov. 19, 2020),

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] Matthew Gault, Half the Country Is Now Considering Right to Repair Laws, Vice Media Group (Mar. 15, 2021),

[xxiii] N.Y. Sen.The Digital Fair Repair Act,  S4104, 2021.

[xxiv] Id.