That problem—that manufacturers of everything are trying to control the secondary repair market—has two main sources, Gordon-Byrne said. First, manufacturers use federal copyright law to say that they control the software inside of gadgets and that only they or licensed repair shops should be allowed to work on it. Second, manufacturers won’t sell replacement parts or guides to the masses, and often use esoteric parts in order to specifically lock down the devices.
These problems have been well known in the smartphone, computer, and consumer electronics for years, and it’s why groups like iFixit and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been able to mount successful challenges to the DMCA in recent years. Increasingly, however, these problems are spilling over into just about every other industry.
"They’re affecting literally everything in the world that is complex enough to have digital components"
The Repair Coalition—which is also calling itself repair.org—includes members from the EFF, iFixit, PC Rebuilders & Recyclers, The Fixers Collective, Public Knowledge, and a series of other smaller industry groups.
“All consumer appliances, from refrigerators to microwaves, very much have repair monopolies from manufacturers, even if you are able to buy parts,” Gordon-Byrne said. Customers who have dared to repair their refrigerator will get to a certain part of a repair and find that components for thermostats or valve controls are locked down via passwords that manufacturers only give to licensed repair shops that they themselves control. The problem is only going to get worse as the Internet of Things takes hold.