Right To Repair

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 11 Jul 2017 12:07:27

Indian consumers need to learn and so should the Government. While ‘Skill India’ is being promoted, it should also tailor it to the concept of self-sufficiency to protect the indigenous innovative workers and the proprietary right of the common man over the product he buys. Cheaper repairs would create jobs, add to wealth, GDP and give freedom from the clutches of the giants.


NOT so long ago, an Indian excelled in “jugaad” also called the Ludhiana technology. Indian semi-skilled techies ruled the repair and innovation business. It found takers even in the West. Unmistakably, ‘jugaad’ developed into a billion dollar industry, providing jobs and business. But now with hi-tech computer-controlled devices such as washing machines, cars or other devices this industry is facing severe problems.


There is no denying it had developed into a lucrative business in several areas including the auto and other machinery spares. Even newspaper printing technologists were taking the help of who many might designate as hackers to devise parts of printing machines that had become outdated. Even today a prestigious mass communication institute runs an obsolete offset printing machine with the help of such ‘jugaadus’. It had been so successful that in 1990s a UK dealer used to market Indian-made Ambassador cars with ‘do it yourself” kit. He was selling 30 cars a month.


Sadly, gone are those days. The difficulties are not restricted to the techies; it is a woe for millions of householders, who used to fix many of the problems themselves. The householders are extorted by the giant manufacturers in the name of “providing service”. It costs more than double the price, as the parts itself may cost just Rs. 50 but fixing charges would cost over Rs. 1,500. Since the spare would not be available in the market, as the manufacturer wants to keep a monopoly, the user has no option but to get fleeced by companies with big spread in the market and monopoly over pricing.


The key to extortion is in the word ‘scan’. A computer is attached to a device to ‘find’ out the problem, which simple deductive argument can find it. Well, there is a charge for it that makes auto or other manufacturers richer. Say it is your car, the company at every service does the ‘scan’, charges Rs. 450, in addition to about Rs. 3,000 charged for servicing, to tell you the car has no problem.


If you fix your car balancing problem outside for a fraction of a cost, the company charges, it frowns upon you and sometimes threatens you with cancellation of the warranty. Customer is no more the king. They have become servants to their manufacturers. The companies revel in this malpractice as they earn more than they do from selling devices. In the absence of a monopolies law and a weak competition act, fleecing is the rule. Remedies even from consumer courts are difficult, time-consuming and cumbersome.

The companies know it so they are extortive. Companies deny the consumers their inherent right to repair through so called hi-tech and patent protection. The practice is anti-consumer, anti-farmer and anti-poor. This is impacting the mobile phone, washing machine, refrigerator and other device repairers. Worse, this is leading to job losses on the one hand and on the other deprives the user of the option of inexpensive fixing of the minor problems.


Why is the consumer unable to handle the situation? This is because the laws are vague; the companies have cartelised and jargonised the problems. Their arguments are that consumers cannot be given the right to ‘destroy’ the machines and that the companies are their “protectors”. The arguments are as destructive as telling a buyer of a house that even after he buys the property, the seller would have the right to repair and alterations! Once a device is sold, it is the option and right of the buyer to do whatever he wants to do with his property. The companies do not have right over it except a responsibility that if the consumer seeks help they are bound to provide it.


While Indian consumers are ruing the ingress of foreign and Indian “hi-tech” products, their friends in the US have launched a movement. They call it right to repair. No they too have not been able to fix the big lobbies but have in a small way able to impact them. It is becoming a mass movement. Often consumers are foxed by the manufacturers, who say that repair information is proprietary and work to shut down repair shops. In actuality, the manufacturer, except for providing assistance, which is legally mandatory, has no right over the product that has been sold to anyone.

Once sold, the proprietary rights cease to exist. Denying information on repair needs to be made a punishable offence. However, still it is not. Even in the US, the companies rule the roost. Only in May 2017, the US Supreme Court has come to the rescue of the buyer in what is called “right to tinker printer cartridge ink’. A repairer, Impression Products, wanted to make a toner cheaper by refilling Lexmark manufactured printer cartridges. The Lexmark sued claiming proprietary rights. After a long battle, the US apex court ruled against Lexmark.


This seemingly insignificant tussle over printer toner clears the way for small businesses to fix the problem without the manufacturer’s permission. The court’s reasoning will help protect the consumer rights from overbroad copyright and other restrictions, such as the ones written into “end user licence agreements” for software or imposed by technological restrictions.


The battle over such issues is becoming a wide movement across the US. The users and local techies are coming together to establish their rights. Farmers are fighting the computer giants, who have put some copyright-protected software in tractors and heavy machinery. They are forced to work with company-approved technicians, who live far away and demand expensive charges. One giant computer firm is said to earn over $4 billion a year through smart phone repair business.

The company says, they are “protecting against hackers”. The agitators are demanding that repair manuals be provided. The perception that one cannot fix one’s problem has been challenged and is finding wider support. The issue is not about just some devices but is being propagated as the spirit of self-sufficiency so that repairers survive and consumers could get affordable services.


Indian consumers need to learn and so should the Government. While ‘Skill India’ is being promoted, it should also tailor it to the concept of self-sufficiency to protect the indigenous innovative workers and the proprietary right of the common man over the product he buys. Cheaper repairs would create jobs, add to wealth, GDP and give freedom from the clutches of the giants. (INFA)