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New York governor signs modified right-to-repair bill at the last minute

Computer repair concept Close-up view.Hardware.

New York state governor Kathy Hochul has signed the Digital Fair Repair Act into law, months after it had passed both chambers of the state’s legislature with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The bill had originally passed in June, but it was only formally sent to Hochul’s desk earlier this month; the governor had until midnight on December 28th to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to pass into law without her signature.

The Digital Fair Repair Act is the country’s first right-to-repair bill that has passed through a state legislature (as opposed to being implemented via executive order), and has been hailed as “precedent-setting” by right-to-repair advocacy groups like iFixit. The law will require companies to provide the same diagnostic tools, repair manuals, and parts to the public that they provide to their own repair technicians.

But tech industry lobbyists and trade groups like TechNet had already worked to weaken the law as it made its way through the state legislature, and the bill as signed by Hochul contains even more conditions and exceptions, ostensibly added to address the governor’s concerns about “technical issues that could put safety and security at risk, as well as heighten the risk of injury from physical repair projects.”

“I am pleased to have reached an agreement with the legislature to address these issues,” Hochul wrote.

Most notably, only devices manufactured and sold in New York on or after July 1, 2023 will be required to meet the law’s requirements, excluding all currently extant products—the ones people already own that they might conceivably want to repair at some point down the line. “Business-to-business” and “business-to-government” equipment that isn’t sold to consumers is also excluded. And manufacturers won’t be required to provide passwords or other tools for circumventing device security lockouts—on balance, probably good for anti-theft features that Apple and other manufacturers offer for stolen phones, but bad for people locked out of their own otherwise functional devices because they’ve forgotten a password or can’t track down a recovery key.

Manufacturers can also opt to provide “assemblies” of parts instead of parts by themselves “when the risk of improper installation heightens the risk of injury.” If you wanted to replace your phone’s display or battery, for example, a company could provide you a display or battery with a bunch of extra cables or other parts connected to it, regardless of whether you needed those parts or not. This could drive up the cost of repairs, lessening their appeal.

These compromises are stacked on top of some broad exemptions already in the original bill, which exclude medical devices, motor vehicles, off-road equipment, or home appliances.

Right-to-repair activists praised passage of the bill while acknowledging that the compromises make it weaker than it ought to be.

“This is a huge victory for consumers and a major step forward for the right to repair movement,” wrote iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. “New York has set a precedent for other states to follow, and I hope to see more states passing similar legislation in the near future.”

“The right-to-repair bill that I’ve spent seven years of my life trying to get passed in my home state got fucked,” said activist Louis Rossmann in a video explaining Hochul’s changes to the bill. “And it’s funny, it got fucked in the exact manner that I thought it would… Because it getting passed without being tainted or screwed with would actually be good for society, and that’s not something that [the] New York state government is going to allow to happen.”

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