OZ To Get Right To Repair Laws Smartphones & Appliance Makers Targeted – channelnews
Consumer electronics manufacturers, some of whom claim have been ripping off consumers on repairs in Australia for years, are facing new laws that give consumers the freedom to choose who repairs their devices.
Following the steps taken by the UK, US and EU, Australian brands are now facing a new era following an investigation by the Productivity Commission of the Australian Market.
The target is device manufacturers, smartphone and automobile manufacturers as well as companies that have tried in the past to threaten third-party manufacturers with the repair of products via IP laws.
In a recent report, the Commission highlights Toshiba, whose notebooks are now being referred to as Dynabooks for threatening a hobbyist workshop in Australia.
The Commission proposed to amend the Copyright Act to allow independent workshops access to information and tools.
The Commission alleged that Toshiba had in the past used Australian copyright law to send cease and desist letters to a hobbyist website that hosted laptop service manuals for Toshiba products.
Despite complaints about repairability issues, the commission also found mixed evidence that manufacturers are deliberately shortening the life cycle of their devices to force consumers to buy the latest models.
“Many manufacturers will design their products to last as long as the consumer wants to keep the product,” said Commissioner Paul Lindwall.
“A phone is a very heavily used product … so the battery in a phone is used a lot more, so I’m not entirely surprised that they only last two years.
“Changing the battery in the phone is of course not easy, it is of course a design issue, but… there is often evidence that people switch [the product] before the end of life for a number of reasons. “
The commission alleged that anecdotal evidence suggests manufacturers restrict third party access to repair materials (such as spare parts, repair information and tools).
While manufacturers often justify these limits as protecting against the risks of inadequate repairs (e.g. relating to safety and security), these risks can be overestimated.
The repair difficulties reflect, at least in part, the growing number of products that contain sophisticated technology, the Commission claimed.
It is now common for cars, refrigerators, and even coffee makers to have embedded software in them.
These advances in technology have brought many benefits to consumers, but they can also add to the cost and complexity of repairs.
The rise in technology-enabled products means that much of the information needed to diagnose a failure is digital, embedded in the product itself and stored behind “digital locks”.
Classic examples are BMW Mercedes and Audi vehicles as well as vehicles from the manufacturers Ford, Toyota and Kia.
The Commission’s preliminary assessment suggests that restrictions on the supply of repairs in some repair markets could lead to consumer harm.
Regarding mobile phones and tablets, the Commission said there is a high concentration of manufacturers in these markets, suggesting that competition in the market for new devices may not be strong enough to compensate consumers with lower product prices.
Some consumers may also be tied to authorized repairers as they cannot easily switch to alternative brands due to poor product compatibility or loss of content.
Another observation is that the national television and computer recycling program should not only expand to include e-waste recycling, but also allow for the repair and reuse of products, the commission said.
The Commission has also recommended that Australia use GPS transmitters for e-waste collected under the recycling program to better track where its e-waste ends up.
One recommendation is that the Australian government should allow certain consumer groups to submit “super complaints” about systemic issues related to access to consumer guarantees.
Complaints should be promptly followed up and responded to by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the commission wrote.
The Australian government should design the Super Complaint System in consultation with the ACCC, relevant state and territory regulatory agencies, and consumer groups.
The system should be backed by sound operating principles – including criteria for assigning (or removing) designated consumer organizations, evidence requirements to support a complaint, and the procedure and time within which the ACCC should respond.
The Commission’s investigation of the CE, appliance and consumer electronics markets revealed that some products have barriers to repair and that these barriers can be removed.
The proposed reforms would improve consumers’ right to repair, without the uncertainty and cost associated with more forceful policy interventions.
They said that a “right to repair” is the ability for consumers to have their products repaired at a repair shop of their choice at a competitive price.
The practical implementation of this claim includes a number of guidelines, including consumer and competition law, protection of intellectual property, product design and labeling standards, and environmental and resource management.
Consumers already have significant rights to have their products repaired, replaced or refunded under the guarantees of Australian Consumer Law. These guarantees are comprehensive and generally work well, but could be improved by:
The Commission will present its final report to the government in October and will hold round table discussions on the draft recommendations over the next few months.