Hochul signs first, broad ‘right to repair’ law

It’s aimed at giving consumers more flexibility with where they get their digital electronic products and devices repaired.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul shows a signed legislative package to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create green jobs during a press conference, Tuesday, July 5, 2022, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Six months after lawmakers passed it, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law a scaled-back measure aimed at giving consumers more flexibility with where they get their digital electronic products and devices repaired.

New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act has been heralded as the nation’s first comprehensive “right to repair” law. It requires original equipment manufacturers to provide diagnostic and repair information to product owners and to independent repair shops even if they are not preferred or authorized vendors.

“This legislation will empower consumers with better options to repair their devices, thereby maximizing the lifespan of their devices, saving money, and reducing electronic waste,” Hochul said in a statement Thursday.

Hochul signed an amended version of the law that sought to address concerns raised by manufacturers and the tech industry. The changes, which Hochul said were reached in consultation with the legislature, include the elimination of a requirement that manufacturers provide “passwords, security codes or materials to override security features” to the public.

The final version of the measure also allows manufacturers to provide assembled parts in lieu of individual components “when the risk of improper installation heightens the risk of injury,” according to a memorandum that accompanied the bill signing.

Other changes to the law exempt products that are sold to businesses and governments or that are otherwise not available through retailers. The law will also not apply to existing devices, but instead to electronics manufactured and sold after July 1, 2023.

Despite the amendments, proponents quickly touted the new law as a significant victory in an ongoing, multi-state fight to pass right-to-repair laws.

“The law signed last night is the event marking the success of establishing a beachhead,” wrote Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association whose members are largely in the electronics repair and resale business. “Now that we have boots on the ground – we can start advancing against the Axis of OEMs.”

Gordon-Byrne told Pluribus News that lawmakers in 21 states have pre-filed or plan to file right-to-repair bills for 2023 legislative sessions.

Colorado enacted a right-to-repair law this year that applies only to motorized wheelchairs.

In 2012 and again in 2020, Massachusetts voters approved right-to-repair measures for automobiles. But implementation of the 2020 update — relating to automotive telematics — has been stalled by a legal challenge brought by auto manufacturers.

The New York law is primarily focused on consumer electronics and does not apply to home appliances, motor vehicles, medical devices or off-road equipment.

Manufacturers who are covered by the law will be required to provide manuals, diagrams, tools and parts to consumers and repair shops.

The tech industry has long opposed such legislation, arguing that it creates intellectual property and cybersecurity vulnerabilities. But TechNet, a tech industry trade group, had a positive response about changes made to the law before it was signed.

“While SB 4104-A and similar legislation remains a serious threat to intellectual property rights, TechNet’s members greatly appreciate the significant strides made by the Administration to address the most critical consumer protection and operational issues in the legislation as passed,” Chris Gilrein, TechNet executive director for Massachusetts and the Northeast, said in a statement. “The agreement reached with the legislature enhances public safety, data security, and transparency in this new repair regime.”

The right-to-repair debate has triggered lawsuits against companies including Apple and farm equipment maker John Deere. It has also prompted the introduction of legislation in Congress.

iFixit, a proponent of right-to-repair laws, said Apple, Google, Valve and Samsung have already established parts programs that will help those companies comply with New York’s law.

Companies that fail to comply with the law could face civil penalties of up to $500 for each violation.