Our Right to Fair Repair – Gay Gordon-Byrne (POY 36)

Our Right to Fair Repair - Gay Gordon-Byrne (POY 36)

Gay Gordon-Byrne directs The Repair Association, a group of repair professionals and advocates fighting to make the products we buy easy to repair again.

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About Gay and The Repair Association

Not long ago, Gay Gordon-Byrne sat down with Kyle Wiens, the co-founder and CEO of the online repair community iFixit. They were attending a repair-related conference in Chicago, representing the professional organization now known as The Repair Association. After attending a few sessions one day, they met to discuss what they had learned. They both left feeling inspired.

“You know something? We’re going to change the world,” Gay recalled them saying to one another.

Gay and other repair industry leaders formed a pro-repair coalition in 2012, which later became The Repair Association. The group doubles as a hub for repair professionals and as an advocating body for fair repair laws. These laws require companies to grant outside parties access to the tools, parts, and manuals needed to repair things when they break, rather than maintaining exclusive control over the rights.

Gay noticed an increase in repair monopolies over time during her long career in computer leasing. When software giant Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, she decided she had enough. According to Gay, “Literally overnight, they said no more third-party maintenance, which at the time pretty much clobbered about 30 percent of the business being done in corporate [computer] repair.”

She began exploring actions to take on behalf of her friends in the industry. She quickly realized how widespread planned obsolescence had become, not only in computer repair but throughout other sectors of society. After that, she volunteered to coordinate efforts aimed at restoring everyone’s rights to repair what they own.

The ability to repair products saves consumers money and is vital to small businesses.
The ability to repair products saves consumers money and is vital to small businesses. (Incase, via Flickr)

Why their work matters

If you’ve noticed in recent years that the things you buy don’t seem to last as long as they used to, or that they’re harder to fix, you’re not alone. In many cases, this has been by design.

Gay explained to me that the intentions behind repair monopolies are usually profit-driven, though she added that companies sometimes decide to restrict what users can do with their products based on efficiency. In either case, many products today are designed so that they can only be repaired by the manufacturer or have to be discarded and replaced. This creates revenue for companies at the expense of everyone else.

The Repair Association is fighting to make these monopolies illegal in as many jurisdictions as possible.

“I spend most of my time working on legislative advocacy,” Gay said. “We’re trying to approach the problem through legislation in the states.”

So far, Gay and The Repair Association have lobbied for variations of fair repair bills in a handful of states, and more actions are on the way.

Because the ability to repair products touches on so many other problems, including economic inequality and environmental degradation, fair repair is a sleeper issue with many potential benefits to society.

How you can make a difference using what you have

Thanks in part to Gay’s dedication, awareness for fair repair seems to be growing in the US. She shared how one engineer in Nebraska was their first contact for fair repair activity in that state. She also made a point to mention that The Repair Association was a group of “one-persons”, individuals who all decided on their own to rally for the right to repair.

Gay gave me the impression that, although the work to persuade state legislatures can be challenging, it’s surprisingly easy to get involved.

“The easiest way [for someone to help] is to let us know they’re interested in helping,” Gay said. Because the Association has made its presence known in almost every state, she is eager to work with locals wherever they speak up.

Talking with Gay instilled me with confidence for the fair repair movement. I got a sense that she’s a strong leader, that she’s clearly passionate about her mission, and that she and her group really will change the world for the better.

“I want the result of my life to be this,” she said.

Now what?

Homework for you

If you’d like to get involved in the fair repair effort where you live, visit repair.org and contact Gay. She’d be glad to have your help. It’s like she said: one person can make the difference.

Further reading

  • Read more about The Repair Association and fair repair at repair.org.
  • You can follow The Repair Association on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Gay mentioned an article by Geoffrey Fowler in our interview. Geoffrey wrote for the Wall Street Journal about his experience with repairing a TV, and concluded that “we need the right to repair our gadgets.” The article is behind a paywall, but you can watch Geoffrey’s short summary video about right to repair.

Contact Josh Morgan

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