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Oregon outlaws parts pairing in new repair law

Image: Fairphone

Enshrining the rights of consumers and third-party technicians to repair their own devices is a long slog of a legal process, but Oregon just took a big step forward. The state just signed its new Right to Repair bill into law, notably adding a measure that others were missing: It’ll soon be illegal to pair up hardware parts with software checks that block replacements.

Governor Tina Kotek signed the law in yesterday, and it will take effect starting in 2025 and applying to some hardware as far back as 2015. It was a surprisingly bipartisan effort in an otherwise bitterly divided political climate, with the Oregon state House of Representatives passing it by 42-13 and the Senate going 25-5. “This is a win for consumers and will help bridge our digital divide and support small businesses across our state,” said Kotek.

The seven-page law SB 1596 (PDF link) includes such Right to Repair staples as requiring manufacturers to make repair documentation and tools available, making replacement parts available directly for sale or through distributors, and not blocking third-party parts from functioning. But it’s the “parts pairing” portion of the law that has advocates like iFixit excited.

Parts pairing is a process that uses a software check to identify specific parts on block those that aren’t on a whitelist. So for example, if an iPhone is using a Samsung OEM screen, the motherboard might run a software check for that part and that part alone.

That part is sold only sold to Apple, and the software check will block otherwise identical screens (even those coming from Samsung itself, even those from the same model iPhone) from functioning when installed. This makes it impossible for anyone except Apple to perform the repair, naturally at a huge premium.

The Oregon law makes it illegal to use parts pairing checks to block third-party parts that would otherwise function. Devices also can’t pop up “unnecessary or misleading alerts or warnings about unidentified parts, particularly if the alerts or warnings cannot be dismissed.” Such issues have indeed plagued iPhone owners in particular — it’s no wonder Apple testified against the bill and objected to the parts pairing portion.

Oregon is now going further than any other state in pushing for Right to Repair principles, including California, Colorado, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. Efforts to expand federal law to cover Right to Repair are currently proceeding through the national House of Representatives as the REPAIR Act, HR 906, though it only applies to cars and other motor vehicles.

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

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