Apple's latest legal challenge infringes on repair rights

  • Apple opposes a new Oregon law that bans matching parts.
  • Part matching violates the right to repair and sends millions of devices into landfills.
  • Apple likes to control everything.

For a while, Apple seemed to actually support the right-to-repair movement, but now it's back to backing state governments' anti-repair bills. what happened?

Last October, California signed the Right to Repair Act into law, forcing companies to provide parts, documentation and other resources that facilitate repairs for years after purchase. Apple supports the legislation. Now, Oregon is jumping on the bandwagon, but with one key difference. It wants to ban the practice of pairing parts, and Apple doesn't like that at all.

"Parts matching makes some repairs impossible to complete outside of the Apple ecosystem. This results in more expensive repairs and a lot of unnecessary waste because it forces refurbishers and independent repair shops to throw away most of the good equipment instead of being able to get it out of them Parts,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, Director of Sustainability at iFixit, told me via private message.

So, what is part matching? This is the practice of using software to lock spare parts to a single device and prevent you, the owner, or an independent repair shop from replacing the part.

For example, if your iPhone screen is cracked, you might think that you can just buy a spare device and then, with a steady hand and a good online guide, you can get a replacement. However, part matching requires you to use software to "bless" the replacement part.

Without this software handshake, screen replacement will not work properly. The FaceID camera may not function, and the Auto True Tone ambient light sensor may not function.

This isn't just about stopping third-party counterfeit parts from being used on iPhones. It's conceivable that Apple might want to protect users from dangerous, substandard batteries or other parts that could compromise the safety of their iPhones. But this happens even if you try to use genuine Apple parts.

This might sound like an annoying question, but it's pretty niche, right? After all, who’s going to fix their own phone? There are two answers here. First, it's easier than you think to perform many repairs yourself. Second, the primary victims of this practice are not equipment owners but independent repairers. As we will see, there is also the environment.

Part pairing makes it difficult or impossible to recycle old, broken gadgets to make parts. A broken iPhone or iPad remains a great source of batteries, cameras, screens and other spare parts, but due to parts pairing, all of them must be sent to a landfill or recycling plant. For all its green propaganda and truly great work on reducing packaging, shipping and emissions, and running the company's operations and data centers on renewable energy, Apple's stance on parts pairing is downright anti-environmental.

For example, at the Oregon hearing, Juan Muro of FreeGeek, a Portland recycling and reuse facility, said that of the 15,000 Apple devices that came into his recycling facility last year, they could only refurbish them because of matching parts. 300 units.

"Part pairing increases repair costs and discourages consumers from seeking repairs, directing them to buy new ones instead. This increases the number of devices produced and the amount that is wasted even though intact devices still have more useful life. Unfortunately, even if legislation passes in the right direction, these blocking measures implemented by manufacturers will increase in tandem," Marie Castelli, director of public affairs at Back Market, a marketplace for updated and refurbished equipment, told via email Lifewire.

So why does Apple do this? The most likely answer is control. Apple is known for liking to control every part of its products, from hardware to software, from production to repair. We've seen it in the App Store, and now we're seeing it in the courts. This control freak comes at the expense of the environment and the rights of users to own and repair their own devices.

"Apple's opposition to the Oregon bill, combined with their support for a similar bill in California, highlights a complex strategy that may be aimed at crafting legislation in a way that minimally affects their control over repairs while appeasing repairers rights advocate," Rich Goldstein, principal patent attorney and intellectual property strategist at Goldstein Patent Law, told Lifewire via email.

The right to repair is crucial for the person who actually owns the device, especially when everything has a chip on it and appears to be disposable. The only way to ensure this is through law, which is why this legislation is so important to the world and so scary for Apple.