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Presented by: Elizabeth Chamberlain
Dr. Elizabeth Chamberlain is Director of Sustainability at iFixit, which is the free repair manual for everything, with over 90,000 guides for fixing everything from tractors to toasters. Liz advocates for the Right to Repair around the world, supporting lawmakers, conducting repair research, and working to make sure environmental standards reflect repair best practices. Her writing on repair has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and The Atlantic.
The fight for our Right to Repair our stuff has gained momentum, but we can’t stop at parts and manuals — we need software access, too. This is obvious to farmers with tractors locked down in “limp mode” at harvest time and iPhone repair shops that can’t dismiss annoying warnings. Manufacturers are hiding more and more repairs behind software locks. We’re fighting them every step of the way, from state legislatures to GPL enforcement lawsuits. When repair professionals and device owners don’t have access to the software they need to complete a repair, they’ve got slim choices: Admit defeat and send the thing to recycling? Hack your way through it? Join the fight for the Right to Repair?
We’re winning that fight, and manufacturers are on their back foot like never before. The first-ever digital repair bill passed in New York in December. Despite the ways the New York bill got narrowed by lobbyists, we’re excited that it will require manufacturers to provide access to whatever software is necessary to complete a repair. Meanwhile, the European Union has passed several repair reforms. France now requires manufacturers to post repair scores at the point of sale. And the Software Freedom Conservancy got a federal court to agree that individual consumers should have the right to the source code of anything operating under the GPL. Oh yeah, and Sick Codes showed off Doom running on a Deere tractor at DefCon. Manufacturers with unjust repair practices, watch out!
Free software would give us the freedom to repair the brains of all our software-enabled devices. But without it, we need research to keep manufacturers honest. Exploits like Sick Codes’s Deere jailbreak help call attention to the vulnerability of security through obscurity, which is always the way manufacturers defend proprietary software and unjust repair practices. Other hacks, like ChuxMan’s hack of his washing machine firmware, point to places where manufacturers are letting consumers down.
Free software and the Right to Repair movement share a heart: When you buy something, you should own it. You should have the right to open it, look inside it, examine what makes it tick—and maybe even make it tick in a new way.