New York State Senate first to pass landmark right-to-repair bill – but don't go popping the Champagne just yet

... lower house, the State Assembly, is not likely to pass the bill


Updated The New York State Senate has approved landmark right-to-repair legislation which forces original equipment manufacturers to provide schematics, parts, and tools to independent repair providers and consumers.

S4104, which advances the Digital Fair Repair act, was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. At a virtual session, 51 senators approved the motion, with just 12 voting against.

Some distance remains before the bill ultimately becomes law. It must win the approval of lawmakers from the lower house, the New York State Assembly, which is currently considering its own version of the bill (A7006).

The 2021 legislative session concluded on Thursday. It is hoped that A7006, which is currently being considered in the committee stage, will be passed in the 2022 sitting, which is scheduled to convene on January 6, 2022.

Although not yet law, senate approval of the bill has been interpreted as a win for the right-to-repair movement, which has secured several crucial victories in recent months.

"In passing this bill, the New York Senate proved they're not afraid to stand up to powerful interests by fighting for the rights of all New Yorkers to fix, and truly own, their devices," commented Kerry Maeve Sheehan, US policy lead for iFixit.

"This is a major win for small repair businesses throughout the state, for the environment, for low income communities, and for everyone who just wants to be able to fix their stuff."

Last November, Massachusetts voters approved a referendum that would extend the right-to-repair to the automotive sector. Taking effect in 2022, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act would allow independent repair shops to access crucial telematics data required for diagnosing and resolving faults in vehicles.

The automotive industry fought vociferously against this bill, spending millions on a marketing campaign that unabashedly veered into the sensational. A series of splashy adverts implied the proposed legislation would make life easier for hackers hoping to cause harm to drivers, and in one heavily criticised and ultimately deleted video, suggested the bill would be a gift horse to high-tech voyeurs.

Youtube Video

This, obviously, was nonsense and voters rightly rejected it. Nonetheless, it illustrated the levels of pressure emanating from sectors that most keenly oppose right-to-repair legislation.

In particular, the consumer technology industry has repeatedly conflated the right-to-repair with piracy, suggesting to lawmakers that it would force American companies to release the source code to proprietary software, and would ultimately undermine end-user privacy and security.

These arguments are bogus. A third-party engineer doesn't need to see the source code of macOS to replace a single faulty power management chip on a MacBook Pro. But to lawmakers concerned about the decline of American technological supremacy, these arguments are compelling, even if they're divorced from reality.

If legislators in New York opt to revisit S4104 and A7006 in the next sitting, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see the same levels of disingenuous lobbying. ®

Updated to add

It looks like the lobbyists will have another shot as well.

“Unfortunately, the Assembly ran out of time to pass their companion to this bill," Kerry Sheehan, US policy lead for iFixit told The Reg.

"We’re disappointed that the chair of the Consumer Affairs committee didn’t move the bill, despite 30 members of the assembly co-sponsoring the bill. This means that we’ll have to start over again next year with a new bill, but with a strong vote of confidence from the Senate vote.”

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