The Video Game Industry Is Lobbying Against Your Right to Repair Consoles
The video game industry has been a particularly notable enemy of fair repair.
The video game industry is lobbying against legislation that would make it easier for gamers to repair their consoles and for consumers to repair all electronics more generally.
The Entertainment Software Association, a trade organization that includes Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, as well as dozens of video game developers and publishers, is opposing a "right to repair" bill in Nebraska, which would give hardware manufacturers fewer rights to control the end-of-life of electronics that they have sold to their customers.
In recent years, manufacturers from an array of industries have used End User License Agreements to restrict repair options to "authorized" repair centers, which are either owned by or pay a licensing fee to manufacturers themselves. This setup has allowed companies like Apple to monopolize iPhone repair, John Deere to monopolize tractor repair, and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to monopolize console repair.
For example, both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 have "signature failures" that affected huge numbers of devices: The "Yellow Line of Death" and the "Red Ring of Death," respectively. Sony charged $200 for a refurbished device. Microsoft replaced many Red Ring of Death Xbox 360 devices free of charge, which is laudable. However, the actual fix for the problem was both cheap and easily done by independent companies or even consumers. What was a massive ordeal for customers and the company could have potentially been much easier if independent repair had been supported.
The video game industry has been a particularly notable enemy of fair repair; both Sony and Microsoft put tamper-proof stickers above the screws on their consoles that note that the warranty is "void if removed." These stickers are illegal under the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a federal law that forbids blanket voiding of warranties based on aftermarket repair. These practices haven't been challenged because litigation is expensive and arduous for any one consumer to undertake.
Bills making their way through the Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Illinois statehouses will require manufacturers to sell replacement parts and repair tools to independent repair companies and consumers at the same price they are sold to authorized repair centers. The bill also requires that manufacturers make diagnostic manuals public and requires them to offer software tools or firmware to revert an electronic device to its original functioning state in the case that software locks that prevent independent repair are built into a device.
The bills are a huge threat to the repair monopolies these companies have enjoyed, and so just about every major manufacturer has brought lobbyists to Nebraska, where the legislation is currently furthest along. In a letter to bill sponsor Sen. Lydia Brasch (embedded below), the ESA and other major trade groups argued that the bill would "threaten consumer safety and security," is "unnecessary," and "mandates the disclosure of protected proprietary information."
"Manufacturers have strong concerns about independent service providers who may take risks or cut corners leaving themselves or consumers in danger if they perform service without the proper training or safety standards," the letter notes.
Manufacturers have generally raised three points of opposition to right to repair legislation: They say repair is unsafe, they say repair could cause cybersecurity problems, and they say that repair could lead to intellectual property theft. While companies are happy to speak in vague terms about these issues through in closed-door meetings between lobbyists and politicians, none have specifically said how the legislation would harm their businesses or their customers.
"It's very transparent why manufacturers are against this"
Manufacturers are not liable for self-inflicted wounds or injuries caused by third party repair. If you stab yourself with a screwdriver while opening your PlayStation, you won't have much luck suing Sony; if you replace the optical drive with a third party one that explodes for some reason, you can't sue Sony. The legislation does not require manufacturers to sell software unlocking tools to consumers that are more powerful than the ones already given to authorized repair professionals. The legislation has specific provisions that protect trade secrets. Right to repair legislation at the state level is not an intellectual property or Digital Millennium Copyright Act issue, it is a contract/EULA issue; the Librarian of Congress has already granted unlocking exemptions related to repair for many types of electronics.
"It's very easy for the manufacturer to stand up there and say no we're the only ones who know how to do it," Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told me. "Lawmakers get spun stories by lobbyists who say the sky is falling, and it's very easy to kill legislation."
After referring me to several different press representatives, Microsoft declined to comment. Sony did not respond to a request for comment. Apple has ignored repeated requests for comment. The ESA declined to comment. In two years of covering this issue, no manufacturer has ever spoken to me about it either on or off the record.
"This is not a case of right vs. left or a fringe interest group pushing it," Wiens added. "Everyone wants to be allowed to fix their stuff, and there's only a few organizations that don't want them to be able to. It's very transparent why manufacturers are against this."
Other groups lobbying against the legislation include:
CompTIA - an information technology trade group that represents many independent repair people but also represents Apple, which is vehemently opposed to the legislation (and is doing its own, independent lobbying effort)
CTIA - A wireless telecom trade group that represents Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and other cell phone carriers
NetChoice - an ecommerce trade group that represents drone manufacturer DJI as well as companies like PayPal and AOL.
Information Technology Industry Council - Represents Dell, Blackberry, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sony, Nokia, and others
Satellite and Broadcast Communications Association - Represents DirecTV and others
TechNet - Includes Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Cisco, HP, Oracle, Uber, SolarCity, Microsoft, and others
Consumer Technology Association - Represents 2,000+ consumer tech companies, throws the annual CES show
Toy Industry Association - Represents VTech (whose tablet for kids notoriously got hacked) as well as many other toy companies
State Privacy and Security Coalition - Represents Google, Facebook, and more than a dozen others