Accepted Paper:

How contemporary legal and policy regimes contour infrastructures of repair  

Author:

Lara Houston

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the legal and policy conditions that shape and constrain contemporary repair infrastructures in the computing and wider ICT industries, particularly the legal mechanisms that frustrate repair, as well as the fixes that have been proposed or implemented to enhance it.

Paper long abstract:

When objects or systems break down, repair practices are mobilized to re-articulate and restore both material fractures and the socio-material relations that sustain a 'working' performance. Repair work requires assemblages of knowledge about objects, forms of expertise, physical parts and patches of code; arrangements that we describe as 'infrastructures of repair'. This paper explores the legal and policy conditions that shape and constrain contemporary repair infrastructures in the computing and wider ICT industries, particularly the legal mechanisms that frustrate repair, as well as the fixes that have been proposed or implemented to enhance it.

Our case centers on the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act; a piece of legislation that prohibits the circumvention of Technology Protection Measures designed into technologies to protect copyrighted works. Every three years the Register of Copyrights considers exemptions to the Act. One proposed exemption in the 2015 round focuses on the diagnosis, repair or modification of vehicle software. We review the arguments put forward by proponents and opponents of the exemption, exploring how questions around standards, emissions and security are juxtaposed against questions of the agency afforded to consumers and independent repairers. This case surfaces two recent 'right to repair' movements in the USA (around cars and digital consumer technologies), that seek to make knowledge about technologies, tools for intervening into embedded systems available and spare parts available to consumers and independent repairers; arguing for an expanded understanding of ownership that includes unboxing, exploring, repairing and modifying the technological things with which we live.

Panel T007
Before/after/beyond breakdown: exploring regimes of maintenance