Australian consumers should have the right to repair broken smartphones and tablets without fear of losing their warranties, a new report by the Productivity Commission has argued.
Manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung are making it harder and more expensive for consumers to repair broken products, the Productivity Commission’s 'Right to Repair' draft report suggested.
The draft report by the federal government's independent research and advisory body assessed the case for a right to repair in Australia, with a focus on whether consumers face any unnecessary barriers to repair that require a government policy response.
The report raised concerns that manufacturers are limiting third-party repairers from accessing the parts, tools, equipment and information they need, including the necessary diagnostic software and codes.
It also argued against contractual arrangements that discourage independent repair, particularly manufacturer warranties that become void if third-party repairs are undertaken.
At the end of last year, the government first launched the inquiry, assessing the costs and benefits of a right to repair products in Australia and the impact that regulation or policy changes could have on market offerings in this field.
The commission is now hoping to reform repair laws, recommending that manufacturers be forbidden from voiding warranties when consumers do not use the repairer and spare parts it specifies.
“There is a high concentration of [mobile and tablet] manufacturers in these markets, suggesting competition in the market for new devices may not be strong enough to compensate consumers through lower product prices,” the report said.
“Some consumers may also be locked-in to using authorised repairers as they cannot easily switch to alternative brands (for example, due to low product compatibility or the loss of content). While any harm may be small per consumer, it could add up to significant harm across the economy.”
In addition, the commission is looking to amend copyright laws to enable third-party repairers to copy and share repair manuals.
In Australia, for example, Toshiba, sent a cease-and-desist letter to a hobbyist repairer to remove laptop service manuals from his website under claims of copyright infringement.
On top of this, the commission recommended developing a product durability or repairability labelling scheme to help consumers identify products that best meet their needs.
It would also look to force manufacturers to provide software updates for a reasonable period after reports that manufacturers were making repairs harder through software locks.
“The [mobile phone and tablet] market for new devices is dominated by Apple, followed by Samsung, indicating that competition may be insufficient for manufacturers to compete away repair market profits,” the report said. “And some consumers cannot easily switch to alternative products, due to lock-in from low product compatibility and the loss of content.”
The draft report also recommended that state and territory governments introduce alternative dispute resolution methods for people with repair or replacement issues.
Manufacturers claimed, according to the report, that their repair information is proprietary, or that there are safety and other concerns resulting from the use of information by unskilled repairers.
The commission is set to hand the final report to the federal government in October and will hold roundtable discussions in the next few months on the draft recommendations.