This month, California became the third U.S. state, following New York and Minnesota, to enact legislation aimed at creating a marketplace for consumers to repair their electronics and appliances.
Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Right to Repair Act (SB 244) takes effect on July 1, 2024. It requires manufacturers to facilitate the diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of electronic or appliance products by offering documentation, parts, and tools to any owner, service and repair facilities, and service dealers on fair and reasonable terms. This requirement applies whenever manufacturers make similar materials available to authorized repair providers. Manufacturers must also make available documentation, parts, and tools for at least three years after the product was last manufactured for products priced between $50 and $99.99 and for at least seven years after the product was last manufactured for products priced at $100 or more, regardless of any warranty periods.
The law broadly covers electronic and appliance products, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, and various home appliances, that were manufactured and sold or used for the first time in California on or after July 1, 2021. This differs from New York’s right-to-repair law, which covers only products sold or used on or after July 1, 2023. Like Minnesota’s law, the California law does not exclude products sold to schools, businesses, local governments, and via other methods outside the direct-to-consumer retail context. The law authorizes any city, county, or the state itself to sue to enjoin potential violators. Potential violators can be subject to a $1,000 fine per day for the first violation, a $2,000 fine per day for the second violation, and a $5,000 fine per day for every subsequent violation.
The law includes some notable carveouts and limitations. First, the law does not apply to (i) any equipment (or repair parts for equipment), including machinery and equipment used in the agricultural, forestry, industrial, and construction industries, (ii) video game consoles, and (iii) alarm systems, including fire alarms. Manufacturers are not required to make available any special documentation, parts, and tools that would disable or override antitheft security measures. Manufacturers are also not required to sell service parts if the parts are no longer provided by the manufacturer or made available to an authorized repair provider acting on the manufacturer’s behalf. The law protects manufacturers from liability for damage or injury that occurs during the repair, diagnosis, maintenance, or modification conducted by a third-party repair facility or owner, including (i) indirect, incidental, special, or consequential damages; (ii) loss of data, privacy, or profits; and (iii) inability to use, or reduced functionality, of the products.
The law also has some other protections and benefits for companies. The law excuses compliance if manufacturers provide an equivalent or better replacement product at no charge, although it is not clear how the law would interpret an “equivalent or better” replacement product. It also requires third-party repair shops to disclose the use of nongenuine or used parts before making any repair.
The law may reduce electronic waste by making self-repairs or third-party repairs more accessible but may also do some harm. First, companies cannot prevent documentation, including product repair manuals, from being made available on the internet, which may dissuade consumers from seeking repair information directly from the manufacturer. Second, although companies are not required to divulge trade secrets or source code or license intellectual property, the law may stifle product innovation, as product documentation will more easily reach the hands of competitors.
Other states also introduced right-to-repair legislation earlier this year. Those states include Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.
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