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I know there's a lot of discussion at the moment of the EU introducing new "right to repair" regulations to try to reduce waste.

I was recently told that this is effectively a reversal of existing policies and that EU regulations have actively prevented such activity on electrical devices, meaning small traders etc could only recondition, not repair (e.g. replace whole circuit boards, not fix individual components).

I've searched for such a rule without success. Does anyone know if this definitely exists and, if so, where I might find the details?

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    Most EU rules are misreported, especially in the English-speaking press. – pjc50 Feb 7 at 13:01
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    There are some rules, typically set up by the individual states, which tie commercial repairs to some kind of ability verification. For example, in Germany, you need a "Meistertitel" to be able to open a shop that repairs cars or high-voltage electrical equipment. Historically this has been the case for many crafts; it has been dropped for most by now, but stays in place for those that have safety concerns. Other states have similar laws. But they typically don't forbid repair in general, they do forbid commercial repair by people who can't provide proof of qualification. – Guntram Blohm Feb 7 at 16:45
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    Another factor is electrical safety testing, i.e. UK PAT. Somebody commercially repairing and even selling used electrical goods needs to have a qualified person test and certify the device. – user71659 Feb 7 at 17:39
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    This myth could be misreporting of ROHS. It was aimed at eliminating lead in waste, but making the devices immediately less reliable and harder to repair was a side-effect. Both the metallurgy and hobbyist equipment have caught up since, and the ROHS-gap is mostly closed now. – Agent_L Feb 8 at 14:36
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    @DavidFulton ROHS banned lead in solder (although not in other products such as lead flashing and car batteries, making the whole thing pointless IMO). The lead-free solder requires higher temperatures and tends to suffer from early failure with "tin whiskers". – pjc50 Feb 8 at 22:25
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No. There is no regulation that prevents a citizen from repairing themselves any kind of electronic device. The problem is that there is also no regulation that requires electronics companies to provide documentation or standardization of parts for the repair of these devices.

This means that your company (let's say a company making TVs) can obfuscate access to their device by using unique proprietary parts (that only they produce). This has been in discussions for years particularly due to some manufacturers doing planned obsolescence (which is worth its own analysis).

The EU proposal "right to repair" is following a world trend (the movement in US is even stronger) and it requires manufacturers to provide adequate conditions for third parties to repair the devices.

Currently this has been enshrined in EU law (which is positive) but somewhat watered down (see this article):

Everyday products including lighting, displays, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges will need to be made to be more easily repairable and longer-lasting from April 2021.

...

However, campaigners have criticised the new laws for limiting access to most spare parts and repair manuals to professional repairers only. This may restrict the access of independent repairers, repair cafés and consumers to some key replacement parts and information, limiting the availability and affordability of repair services, they said.

Campaigners blame strong pressure from industry lobby groups for prompting the European Commission to water down proposals on repairability in favour of recyclability.

This was not totally unexpected since the EU members with large industries were against the proposal (see this article):

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The European Commission has put on the table proposals to make it easier for consumers to have certain products repaired instead of having to buy new ones. They would trigger substantial environmental benefits by reducing waste and unleashing the potential of job creation in the sector, according to Chloé Fayole from ECOS, co-leader of the Coolproducts campaign, who attended the discussions. “At the moment, consumers are forced to discard products, as repair is made impossible or unaffordable.”

According to their statements during the meetings, Germany, Italy and the UK are currently blocking the proposals, while France, Poland and Spain are either completely disengaged or have adopted a neutral stance. Because of the high weight their votes carry, the proposals are likely to be dropped from the agenda if their positions are not challenged.

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    Marked as the accepted answer as I think it most closely aligns to the aim of the question, but other points above around copyright are clearly significant factors and I've therefore upvoted. – David Fulton Feb 7 at 13:55
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    Apart from using proprietary parts, they also sometimes do something irreversible (e.g., add some resin casting) – Hagen von Eitzen Feb 9 at 9:20
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    From March 29th the UK will no longer be blocking this proposal. – Ed999 Feb 10 at 2:03
  • @Ed999 maybe... no one knows. – UKMonkey Feb 11 at 15:03
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I don't think there's any one law or regulation that does this. Instead, we have old laws being used in new ways. While the Electronic Frontier Foundation is in the US, they describe the problem as this

[U]ntil it breaks and you want to fix it yourself (or take it to a local repair shop you trust). Or you think of a way to make it work better that requires tinkering with the software (or some third party does). Or you want to give it to a friend or re-sell it. Then, you have a problem. Why? Copyright.

Further complication: the software may come with digital locks (aka Digital Rights Management [DRM] or Technical Protection Measures [TPMs]) supposedly designed to prevent unauthorized copying. And breaking those locks, even to do something simple and otherwise legal like tinkering with or fixing your own devices, means breaking the law, thanks to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

And then there’s manual lockdown, which happens when manufacturers refuse to publish crucial repair information (including the manuals themselves, but also things like diagnostic codes for cars)—and then threaten to sue anyone else who tries to do so with a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Most of these laws exist in Europe and manufacturers have learned that copyright laws are an effective tool in ensuring that only the original manufacturer (and their hand-picked repair shops) can repair a device. And some companies are getting even more aggressive with restricting repairs

Users who have had a screen repair performed by a third party, rather than with Apple, on their iPhone 8 smartphones found that the iOS 11.3 update stopped the touchscreen from working, reports Motherboard.

The screens continue to display the homescreen once updated to iOS 11.3 but cannot be interacted with, effectively rendering the affected iPhone 8 device unusable without warning from Apple.

The real problem is software is being used in more and more products, which means that copyright laws meant to protect software and its manufacturers are now being used to create monopolies around entire ecosystems. So you need a law to specifically address this usage, as opposed to repealing one single law.

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    This is interesting and provides a useful background, but I don't think it covers the specific scenario I was asking about. The above would also block component replacement (such as screens), whereas the example I was given allowed such replacement, but not replacing a resistor on a PCB (for example). – David Fulton Feb 7 at 13:40
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    @DavidFulton The copyright restrictions means you can't reproduce a manual that would describe how to do that. Copyright takedowns are permitted in Europe. Furthermore, EU law makes it a legal minefield to reverse engineer how to do that. – Machavity Feb 7 at 13:44
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    Right, but hypothetically, if I took my multimeter and discovered that capacitor X was faulty, wouldn't I be able to fix that? I've not reverse engineered the device, or written any documentation. – David Fulton Feb 7 at 13:48
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    I think in that case it's more a warranty problem than a copyright problem. Most warranties vanish as soon as you alter the device (so people don't screw around with them). But this also leads to the fact that as soon as you repair your product all warranty claims vanish. If the device is build to be defective when you try to repair it, you don't have any legal claims against this. – miep Feb 7 at 13:53
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    @DavidFulton The simple answer there is that the law is murky on that point. In theory, the answer should be a definitive "no", but there's enough legal play that you could still be sued and have to defend yourself in court. Even if you did prevail, you're out those legal fees. A clearer law would disallow the suit from proceeding in the first place. – Machavity Feb 7 at 13:54
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I think you missinterpreted the term in this context

right to repair

It is not the case that the EU forbids repairs, it is meant the other way round: As Machavity in his answer said, the companies making it really hard for consumers to repair their products. The "right to repair" should give the consumers the right to fix and repair broken products, without companies (looking at you, Apple) prohibiting/hindering them.

Sadly I can't provide you with the sources you ask for, but I'm certain this issue is either in the EU-law to copyright or in the EU-law to warranty.

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There are certainly regulations that can be misused by a hostile OEM in such a manner against independent, commercial repair services:

  • safety regulations - one could argue that someone repairing an undocumented device cannot ensure it to be safe. Or that a device that has been modified by a repair that uses alternative or custom made spare parts forfeits safety approvals that are documented for/on the device

  • trademark regulations - one could argue that a modified (as above) device still bearing the original manufacturers trademark misrepresents that manufacturer's brand

  • environmental, patent, liability etc laws that would equate to a barrier to market entry if you were to build such a device from scratch - these might be applied to a modified device too....

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