ABSTRACT: As manufacturers seek to limit the ability of consumers and third parties to repair their products, state and federal legislators introduce “right to repair” legislation that would loosen those restrictions.

Repairing complicated digital equipment has become increasingly difficult in recent years. In most instances, a consumer in need of a repair of any digital equipment has few, if any, choices for where and how the equipment is repaired. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will typically only offer the tools, parts, and information necessary to make those repairs through the OEM itself or a licensed dealer. As a result, consumers and independent repair providers lack the tools and expertise necessary to make these repairs. Further, many products’ warranties are voided if a piece of equipment is repaired by someone other than the OEM or an officially licensed dealer.

There is now a growing effort to enact “right to repair” laws to give consumers more flexibility to repair their own equipment. Generally, these laws grant consumers and independent repair companies access to the tools, parts, documentation, and software required to diagnose, maintain, and repair certain types of equipment. These laws typically require the OEM to provide manuals with specifications, schematics, and software updates to consumers at no cost, to allow the devices to be repaired without voiding the warranty, and to give independent repair companies access to the same tools and repair parts as the OEM on “fair and reasonable terms.” These laws are primarily introduced in the digital equipment industry (typically defined as anything requiring a computer chip), motor vehicles, and the agricultural and construction equipment industry. There have also been attempts to introduce similar legislation covering medical equipment, wheelchairs, educational devices, and motorcycles.

Proponents of these bills argue these laws provide consumers with more freedom to repair their own equipment or choose their own repair shop. They further argue these laws will drive repair costs down by increasing competition and will reduce electronic waste. The opponents of these laws, including the OEMs themselves, argue providing detailed specifications and schematics to consumers and third-party repair companies would reveal valuable trade secrets and proprietary information. They argue this would disincentivize innovation, research, and development of new products. Further, allowing the consumer full repair and maintenance access could lead to modifications that would make the product unsafe or non-compliant with applicable safety or emissions regulations, potentially leading to more injuries or liability to the OEMs.

To date, six states have passed right to repair laws. Massachusetts was the first, passing a motor vehicle right to repair law in 2012 and another in 2020, which required vehicle manufacturers to provide a standardized open data platform to vehicle owners and independent repair facilities. Since 2022, Colorado, New York, Minnesota, Maine, and California have passed various right to repair laws. Currently, approximately twenty-seven states have some form of a right to repair law introduced or pending.

Federal efforts to pass right to repair laws have so far been unsuccessful, although one bill is still active. Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-NY) introduced the “Fair Repair Act,” which would apply to digital electronic equipment, in June 2021. It was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June 2021 and died shortly thereafter. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) introduced the Fair Repair Act to the Senate in March 2022. As with the House bill, it was referred to committee, where it did not advance. Most recently, Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL) introduced the “Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair Act” or “REPAIR ACT”, seeking to require motor vehicle manufacturers to provide the vehicle’s owner with direct, real-time data related to diagnostics, repair, service, wear, and calibration of parts and systems of the vehicle. It has 50 bipartisan co-sponsors. It was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it was most recently forwarded to the full committee for a voice vote in November 2023. The result of that vote has not been reported.

Missouri, Kansas, or Illinois have yet to pass any right to repair legislation. Certain Missouri legislators have attempted to pass these bills on multiple occasions. House Bill No. 975, introduced by Rep. Barry Hovis (R-Cape Girardeau County), would have guaranteed the right to repair any “construction machinery, any mobile heavy equipment or heavy machinery designed for construction or earthwork tasks[.]” The bill was introduced in January 2021 and died in committee in May 2021. Rep. Hovis re-introduced the same bill two more times, HB 2402 and HB 698, in January 2022 and January 2023, respectively. They suffered the same fate, dying in committee shortly thereafter. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a private organization, officially spoke out against HB 2402, arguing it would “threaten [agricultural equipment manufacturers and dealers] security, intellectual property and warranty agreements—not to mention opening them up to undue liability.” Missouri Senator Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis County) introduced Senate Bill 554 in January 2023. Senate Bill 554 was significantly broader than the house bills, covering all electronic equipment. This also died in committee in May 2023.

Missouri currently has five proposed right to repair bills: 1) HB 1618, introduced by Rep. Brian Seitz (R-Taney County), would protect the right to repair any products “that depend on digital electronics embedded in or attached to them” (excluding motor vehicles); 2) HB 2041, introduced by Rep. Emily Weber (D-Jackson County), would guarantee consumers the same rights to diagnostic and repair information as independent repair providers and authorized repair providers for any electronic product; 3) HB 2475, introduced by Rep. Hovis, seeks the same protections as his earlier bills; 4) SB 1472, introduced by Sen. McCreery, seeks the same protections as her prior SB 554; and 5) HB 2800, a motorcycle right to repair bill introduced by Rep. Seitz. All the proposed bills would make any violation an unlawful practice under the Merchandising Practices Act. These bills are currently in committee and have not received a vote.

Illinois also has active right to repair laws pending. Illinois SB 2669, introduced by Sen. Jill Tracy (R-Quincy), seeks to protect the right to repair agricultural equipment. It was introduced in January 2024 and is currently awaiting committee assignment. Similarly, SB 2680, introduced by Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview), was introduced in January 2024 and is awaiting committee assignment. It seeks to guarantee the right to repair home electronic products or appliances. On the House side, Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg) introduced three right to repair bills in February 2023. HB 3593 seeks to guarantee the right to repair digital electronic equipment. HB 3601 looks to protect the right to repair educational technology, and HB 3602 seeks to protect the right to repair electronically powered wheelchairs. All three of these bills are currently in committee and have yet to receive a vote. Similar to the Missouri bills, the Illinois bills make any violation an unlawful practice under Illinois’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

Kansas does not currently have any right to repair laws proposed or pending. The most recent attempt was House Bill No. 2122, introduced as a committee bill by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs. It was introduced in January 2017 and ultimately died in committee in May 2018. There have been no official attempts to introduce any right to repair laws since.

As these laws are still relatively new, the total effect they may have on repair prices, competition, and liability remains to be seen.