Right-To-Repair Activists Are Heroes

in Counter Solutions — by Kevin Carson —        September 15, 2016

The only function of “intellectual property” is to snatch scarcity
from the jaws of abundance — to take goods that, thanks to the advance
of human knowledge, should naturally be getting cheaper, and make them
artificially expensive. This is nowhere more evident than in the war
corporations are fighting against their own customers’ right to repair
the items they purchase. Fortunately, as Emily Matchar points out at
Smithsonian (“The Fight for the ‘Right to Repair,’” July 13), there
are activists fighting for the right to repair.

“Repair prevention,” Matchar says, is a rapidly growing method for
enforcing planned obsolescence or turning repairs into a cash cow.
Cars and most appliances now have embedded software, which is usually
proprietary. “Some companies use digital locks or copyrighted software
to prevent consumers or independent repair people from making changes.
Others simply refuse to share their repair manuals. Some add fine
print clauses to their user agreements so customers (often
unwittingly) promise not to fix their own products.”

The price gouging these methods enable is disgraceful. An “authorized”
iPhone battery replacement costs $79, compared to the $30 Matchar paid
for an unauthorized replacement at a Hong Kong electronics mall, and
the $35 iFixit (about which more below) charges for a mail-order
replacement kit. Several years ago Julian Sanchez managed to defeat
the purposefully impossible to open casing on his iPhone and unjam a
button, rather than take the Genius Bar’s advice and replace it for
$250 (“Dammit, Apple,” June 2, 2008). Closer to home, my sister
recently paid $200 just to have a technician run diagnostic software
on her car.

Besides price gouging, this proprietary planned obsolescence takes a
heavy toll in wasted resources and environmental destruction. Tech
Dump, an organization that refurbishes discarded electronics and sells
them to the poor at affordable prices, is only able to refurbish about
15% of the computers, cell phones and TVs it takes in either because
replacement parts are proprietary or repair information is closely
guarded. Imagine the savings in rare earth metals — a trade associated
with some of the worst conflict regions and labor exploitation on
Earth — without this barrier to recycling electronics.


Patented spare parts and copyrighted diagnostic software both
increasingly lock independent repair shops out of the market.

This is where the right-to-repair activists come in. One of the most
notable organizations is iFixit — the purveyor of that nifty
unauthorized iPhone battery replacement kit — an online “repair Wiki”
which “provides repair instructions and DIY advice and tools.” An
independent medical equipment repairman in Tanzania maintains a
website (, which hosts manuals and other
repair information for infant incubators, heart monitors and the like
— a public service for which he is constantly harassed by
manufacturers.There’s also a big market in unauthorized jailbreaks for
appliances that charge ungodly amounts of money for accessories like
ink cartridges.

But the right-to-repair movement still hasn’t had its “Napster
moment.” I’m optimistic that it soon will, though. Imagine when
there’s an equivalent of The Pirate Bay or SciHub for automotive
diagnostic software that shade tree mechanics can download for free.
Imagine when there’s a large black market in cheap knockoffs of
patented replacement parts churned out by neighborhood garage
micro-manufacturing shops.

Everywhere we look, heroes of information freedom are contesting the
corporate state’s lockdown on the free sharing of knowledge. What free
culture hacktivists have already done to music and academic journals,
they’ll soon do to physical manufacturing. Information wants to be

Photo by Incase.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society
( and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He
is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes
Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A
Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A
Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online.
Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman:
Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs,
including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation,
and his own Mutualist Blog.

Originally published by P2P Foundation blog

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