For years, we’ve been fighting for your right to fix your stuff, and it’s finally paying off. In a move that’s tantamount to the Berlin Wall of tech monopolies crumbling, Apple has officially endorsed California’s Right to Repair Bill, SB 244.
A Long Time Coming
The iFixit team and an incredible coalition has spent the better part of two decades advocating for your right to repair your things. From our early teardowns to the lobbying we’ve done behind the scenes, this has been a long and challenging journey. But this endorsement signals a sea change. Apple, one of the most formidable opponents to Right to Repair legislation, has finally come around. Let’s talk about what this means for us—the makers, tinkerers, and fixers.
SB 244 is a landmark piece of legislation that could set the standard for the rest of the nation. Beyond providing access to parts and tools, this bill mandates that manufacturers make repair materials available for a set period after the product is last manufactured. It’s not just about giving you the freedom to replace a broken screen or change a faulty battery—it’s about creating a culture of longevity and sustainability.
If passed, this bill follows hot on the heels of legislation in Colorado, New York, and Minnesota. One difference with the proposed California law is that enforcement isn’t just centralized at the state level. Cities and counties can also bring cases against non-compliant manufacturers. This creates a grassroots level of enforcement, allowing local communities to take charge. Think about what this means for local repair shops and community makerspaces! As we shift from advocacy to implementation, it’s going to take a village of tinkerers to hold manufacturers accountable to their new obligations.
A Wealth of Repair Resources
One of the most exciting aspects of this bill for makers is the availability of repair manuals and diagnostic tools. These aren’t just great for fixing things—they’re an incredible resource for understanding how things work. I foresee a renaissance in the maker community as people reverse-engineer products, come up with new hacks, and repurpose otherwise obsolete technology.
This is also going to spur innovation in the repair industry. Entrepreneurs now have a fighting chance to take on the big corporations. If we can pass 1201 reform, I expect to see an explosion in third-party repair tools and apps.
We can’t rest on our laurels. SB 244 is a giant leap forward, but it’s not the end of the road. We need to focus on areas that the bill doesn’t cover, like game consoles and ensuring the availability of calibration tools without internet access. There’s still plenty of work ahead, and our coalition is more energized than ever to keep pushing.
A Federal Fix
Of course, California is just one state. And while we are making progress across the country (thirty states introduced bills this year), we’d also like to solve this nationally. The primary federal blocker to tinkering is a small provision tucked into the DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Section 1201 of this act makes it illegal to circumvent software locks on devices—even if you’re doing it for a perfectly legitimate reason like repairing your stuff. While DMCA was initially implemented to prevent pirating copyrighted material, its application in today’s repair landscape is like using a sledgehammer to put in a thumbtack. It’s excessive, and it’s leading to some absurd scenarios.
As someone who has been fighting for the Right to Repair for over two decades, I see DMCA 1201 as one of the most significant roadblocks in our path. The legislation essentially criminalizes the tinkering spirit. For makers, hackers, and tinkerers, the chilling effect is palpable. Whether it’s building custom firmware for an old piece of hardware or figuring out how to optimize a 3D printer, DMCA 1201 makes many of these activities legally precarious.
The Case of McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines
Believe it or not, about 10% of McDonald’s ice cream machines are out of service at any given time. You’d think that in a world brimming with engineering marvels, fixing an ice cream machine would be straightforward. It could be—if it weren’t for software locks and proprietary error codes that turn every minor issue into a costly technician call.
Because of DMCA Section 1201, even if we could decode those cryptic error messages, sharing how to bypass the locks would be illegal. The device manufacturer, Taylor, seems to capitalize on this, making a mint out of frequent, expensive service calls.
This week iFixit and advocacy think tank Public Knowledge are petitioning the Copyright Office to exempt commercial equipment, including McDonald’s ice cream machines, from Section 1201.
But even if we get the exemption, we need a more comprehensive solution. That’s why we’re pushing for the Freedom to Repair Act, which would crucially fix Section 1201 to enable selling repair tools. Such legislation would not only ensure your right to a functioning ice cream machine but would also reinforce your liberty to understand and repair all your devices—from iPhones to tractors.
Continuing the Fight
While we celebrate our victory with Apple and SB 244, let’s not forget that the fight is far from over. We’ve still got a long road ahead of us, from ensuring SB 244 is as inclusive as possible to challenging the deeply problematic aspects of DMCA 1201.
We’re not just fighting for the right to repair our gadgets or even for the joy of a summer treat. We’re fighting for the liberty of ownership, the future of our planet, and the spirit of innovation and curiosity that drives all of us in the maker community.
Keep your soldering irons hot and your ice cream cones ready. Change is coming, and it’s going to be sweet.