On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission led by Chair Lina Khan voted unanimously to condemn restrictions imposed by manufacturers on products that make them more difficult to repair independently. The decision commits the FTC to investigating restrictions that may be illegal under both the nation’s antitrust laws as well as a key consumer protection law governing product warranties, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
In a statement, FTC Chair Lina Khan vowed to use the agency’s full range of tools to “root out” illegal repair restrictions.
Beyond the use of adhesives that make it harder to access the insides of a device, the policy statement calls out restrictions that limit the availability of spare parts only to a manufacturer’s preferred servicers. It zeroes in on “software locks” and copy-protection technology as well as restrictive user licensing language. And it blasts “unlawful, overbroad” patent and trademark lawsuits that have allegedly been weaponized to restrict independent repairs.
Wednesday’s vote doesn’t just place more pressure on the tech industry. Makers of everything from tractors to hospital equipment have been accused of similar tactics.
In remarks ahead of the vote, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra said the agency had received reports of hospitals that were prevented from fixing ventilators during the pandemic as a result of manufacturer restrictions, making the right-to-repair issue a matter of life and death.
Wednesday’s policy statement also commits the FTC to working with states “to advance the goal of open repair markets.” Dozens of states are considering so-called right-to-repair legislation, according to the advocacy group US PIRG.
“Manufacturers, be warned: It’s time to clean up your act and let people fix their stuff,” said Nathan Proctor, senior campaign director for the group’s right to repair initiative, in a statement. “With unanimous support from commissioners, there’s a new sheriff in town. The FTC is ready to act to stop many of the schemes used to undermine repair, while support is increasing for new legislation to further crack down.”