Californians are entitled to parts and software
California gives itself a Right to Repair. The new law requires manufacturers of electronic and other devices to support their maintenance and repair – not for free, but under “fair and reasonable conditions”. Specifically, they must provide sufficient documentation, functional parts, tools and software (including updates) to enable diagnosis, maintenance and repairs.
From July 1, 2024, both the owners of the devices themselves and independent repair providers and spare parts dealers will be eligible. It applies to all devices first used or sold in California no earlier than July 1, 2021, for seven years from the last day the device was manufactured. If the device costs less than $100 wholesale, the duration of the claim is reduced to three years from the last day of manufacture; there is no claim for a wholesale price below $50.
The bill, SB 244, was passed in the California lower house with only one dissenting vote and in the upper house even without dissenting votes. Gov. Gavon Newsom still has veto power, but it is highly unlikely that he will exercise it. The law received prominent support from Apple just a few weeks ago: The company is now in favor of a right to repair in California. Until then, Apple had lobbied against this consumer protection for years.
However, there are a number of exceptions to the law. There is no right to repair for consoles for computer games, alarm systems including fire protection systems, and those parts of devices that serve as theft protection activated by the owner. The biggest exception is perhaps that manufacturers do not have to supply spare parts if they no longer manufacture them or install them themselves and no longer make them available to their partner workshops.
In addition, the short law does not cover a wide range of certain devices for which there are already extensive rules on sales and spare parts trading. These are All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) as well as all machines and devices that are used for or in landscape maintenance, gardening, golf courses, agriculture, forestry, mining, building construction, civil engineering, factories or the supply of electricity, water or gas. However, the new law does cover road vehicles, even if they are intended for these purposes.
There is no right to the publication of source code. Manufacturers are also allowed to keep secret documentation or software that they use for free error diagnosis via telecommunications, provided that they do not make this documentation or software available to any other third party. In addition, documentation, tools and software are excluded if they are used exclusively for machines that repair several devices at the same time; However, the manufacturer must then issue other documentation, tools and, if necessary, software so that third parties can diagnose and repair problems with the affected device or maintain it.
The law imposes fines on manufacturers who do not comply with the right to repair. The state of California and its counties and cities have the right to actively sue. For the first violation, the manufacturer faces a maximum fine of $1,000 per day, for the second offense twice as much, and from the third violation onwards, a fine of $5,000 per day can be imposed.
Manufacturers and their partners are not subject to any liability. If something goes wrong during repairs by the device owner or third parties, they cannot be held responsible. Independent repair shops must inform their customers in advance that they are not a partner of the respective manufacturer.
California is the third US state to guarantee citizens and organizations a broad right to repair. Minnesota and New York have similar laws that also take effect next year. However, the claim lasts longer in California; In New York, lobbyists were able to add more loopholes to the law at the last minute. Law proposals for a Right to Repair have been submitted in around 20 other US states. The right to repair is also being negotiated in the EU.
In Massachusetts, voters approved a right to car repairs through a referendum in 2020; Manufacturers offering their vehicles in the US state must support a standardized data platform through which both owners and independent repair shops can access telemetry data for diagnostics, maintenance and repairs. The Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration initially blocked this law, but gave up its opposition this August.
Tesla faces two class action lawsuits in the US District Court for Northern California. The plaintiffs accuse the vehicle manufacturer of violating competition law by hindering competition for spare parts and repairs for its electric cars.
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