Business, Hardware

How Tech Companies Use Copyright Law to Stifle Repairs

As our technology gets more complicated and ever smaller, the amount of technology that we cram inside gets ever greater. When things get smaller and still more complicated, you start to run into a big problem and it appears that we’ve run into it in a big way. You simply can’t repair your own tech like you used to be able to. You used to be able to buy a laptop and replace whatever component had broken, the same went for phones. However, many companies have sacrificed the repairability of their devices for the sake of thinness and portability. And companies like iFixit have been fighting against these trends using their teardowns and self-generated manuals. Their CEO recently talked on The Guardian about how tech companies are using copyright law to stifle users’ ability to repair their own products.

However, in many cases, even some parts of these new laptops or smartphones are either replaceable or repairable so that you don’t have to get an entirely new one every time something happens. If it were up to the majority of smartphone, tablet and laptop manufacturers, they would make all of their devices 100% disposable and you would need to buy a new one every time something went wrong. A good example of that is what Apple does with their laptops, tablets and smartphones slowly integrating all of the components of their devices into a single PCB or their displays into a single assembly. Sure, it does result in a far more elegant solution and a cheaper and thinner one, but it also makes these devices virtually throwaway if something happens.

Apple has been leading on this trajectory, but other PC manufacturers have followed and been encouraged by companies like Intel with their Ultrabook designs. The idea of soldering memory to a PCB is a horrendous one for anyone looking to upgrade their storage or RAM at any point. Not to mention, if the RAM or SSD are soldered to the PCB, if a single chip goes bad, the entire motherboard needs replacing and the device is ‘totaled’. Meaning that the cost of repairs is greater than the cost of buying a new one or a newer model.

In addition to that, many manufacturers have gone as far as to demand that repair websites take down any repair manuals that pertain to their products claiming that they somehow result in rip-offs and such. Even though, let’s be honest, most of these companies already do most of their repairs in China and those repair manuals have already been leaked all over the place. In the internet age, once information has been digitized it really can’t be restricted. Sure, I can understand the companies’ need to protect their investments that they’ve made towards creating these repair manuals. But at the same time, they give their customers no ability to fix their own products if they wish to.

image credit: iFixit Macbook Pro Teardown

This is where iFixit comes in and not only tears down products for the entire industry to see, but at the same time issues repairability ratings letting people know how repairable a product may be. After all, a product’s repairability should certainly be a factor when buying a product knowing that if you drop the phone and crack the screen it won’t cost you as much as the phone because the LCD is fused with the glass and touch sensor. The real truth is that iFixit is one of the few companies out there that has become a counter to the culture of throwaway devices and ruining the repairability of devices. T

After all, if we keep replacing devices and getting rid of the rest of non-functional products we’re also harming the environment. Long gone are the days of simply buying a new hard drive, RAM or LCD when a component goes bad, especially if you own any new Apple laptop or Ultrabook. This culture not only allows for the manufacturer to charge a premium for more memory at the time of purchase, but they also have the ability to limit your capacity for the expressed purpose of planned obsolescence. And once you realize that you need more storage you’ll need to buy a new one, a great example of this are tablets and smartphones where currently most manufacturers have done away with expandable microSD cards and opted almost exclusively for built-in storage. Sure, it enables for thinner devices and better performance in many cases, but it also takes expandability away from consumers where it isn’t absolutely necessary (see HTC One, HTC One China version and HTC One Max).

The truth is that we need to support efforts like iFixit’s and to continue to support such activities that call out companies for bad practices and simultaneously inform us of what is exactly in our devices.

(title image credit: iFixit)