Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Right to Repair Software?
13 points by pabs3 on April 17, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 31 comments
Would you support a right to repair software in law? How could we implement such a right?



Say I want to repair Microsoft Word.

One implementation of this right is requiring Microsoft to give me access to the source code, build tooling, any engineering documents and perhaps access to the dev team depending on how far this law would go.

Another implementation, that I feel is far fairer is allowing me to interface with Microsoft Word so I could develop an alternate route to repair whatever functionality isn't working.

Microsoft already does the latter though maybe not to the level desired. They have C#, VBScript and COM. I recall using COM Interop in C# to get access to online presence data from Microsoft Lync.


> Another implementation, that I feel is far fairer is allowing me to interface with Microsoft Word so I could develop an alternate route to repair whatever functionality isn't working.

I routinely encounter bugs in software that wouldn't be fixable with some API. How about something like "it crashes on startup when I have graphics driver X installed" for example, if it turns out to be due to a bug in Word rather than in the graphics driver? This is the sort of weird interaction that usually leads to me wanting to fix things.

IME, API access tends to be about additional functionality or integrations, not bugfixing. I equate "right to repair" with the latter, not the former.


>One implementation of this right is requiring Microsoft to give me access to the source code

Not really, no. There are examples of software being repaired, or even completely rebuilt, without access to the original source code - from Falcon BMS to (parts of) Microsoft's own Excel.


That there are examples of something being done doesn't mean that it's a practical system. Just saying "Here's a hex editor. Have at it" isn't meaningfully supporting a right to repair.


And yet it would be better than the current situation where the hex editor is a copyright infringement.


It would be an improvement, but I think it's closer to an update of first-sale doctrine than it is to a meaningfully supported right to repair.


There are reasonably good decompilers already, and the right to use them being added to the law would probably lead to improving them.


No doubt. Are you referring to using tools like ida?


I wanted to answer that those laws are not about the enabling tools, but I am probably wrong as some of the suggestions are to "require automobile manufacturers to sell the same service materials and diagnostics directly to consumers or to independent mechanics as they provide exclusively to their dealerships."

So diagnostics and ready materials, not the blueprints and access to the raw materials or machinery. You should be able to but spare parts and make sure they work, but not manufacture them yourself.

What is the equivalent in software? splitting the software to libraries with known APIs?


I wouldn't care

I'm one person

Not a development team with all the tribal knowledge of a given tool, and the millions of developer-hours that have already gone into building it

OSS is already "right to repair" ... yet how many people actually contribute something when they find an issue?

Expand that to "how many people even submit a bug when they find a problem?"

I'd wager the answer to the broader question is a lot less than 0.1%

And of those, the ones who actually make a fix is probably also a lot less than 0.1%

Out of a million users, maybe 1,000 would submit a bug (if they found it)

Out of 1,000 bug submitters, maybe 1 would post a fix (if they could)


> OSS is already "right to repair" ... yet how many people actually contribute something when they find an issue?

It doesn't matter. It just takes one, and then it's fixed for everyone.

I generally do contribute. Now I'm employed to do so, but I still do the same when working on some hobby thing.


>I generally do contribute

Congratulations!

You're in the 0.1% of the 0.1%!

For the remaining population ... it doesn't matter whether they "could" 'fix it' - they won't (or can't)


Did you miss where I said: It just takes one, and then it's fixed for everyone?


Did you miss where I said it doesn't matter?


The GPL already includes a right to repair GPL-licensed software.


We would implement it through the "4 freedoms" of software.

https://edtechbooks.org/openedreader/stallmans-four-freedom#....


When one speaks about Right to Repair, one needs to consider also ability to test the software to verify that nothing else was broken.

This means access to the software testing suite used by the software provider.

Unfortunately, the software testing suite is not considered by the various GPL licenses to be part of the source code, even though it would help safely modifying the software in question.

An example: Oracle keeps control over Java by not making its Java certification test suite publicly available.


More details on the Java Compatibility Kit access:

https://openjdk.org/groups/conformance/JckAccess/


> How could we implement such a right?

I can't even begin to answer the first question until the second question is at least sketched out. What does "right to repair" even mean in software? Software is very different than physical machinery in many really important ways.

Technically, in the US, you already have the "right to repair" except in the cases where you'd need to break an access control to do it. Revisiting the DMCA anticircumvention laws strikes me as the best path to "right to repair".


Concerning medical software, there is the general problem of having to regulate "tampering" (making unauthorized alterations) of medical equipment.


No, I wouldn’t support this for software that doesn’t include a right-to-repair-license. It’s the software maker’s choice to offer it and the consumer’s choice to buy it or not.


So you support the defacto removal of right-to-repair across the board? Or just for software?


I don’t know enough about right-to-repair across the board to make a sweeping declaration.

That said, I tend to fall on the side of letting product/service providers set limits on how their products and services are used — as long as they are up front about those limits and don’t change them after the fact. And I’m generally against the idea that when a customer buys a product or service they’re owed anything beyond the product or service that they’re buying.


You seem to be leaning on the virtue of free market interaction, but copyright/patents/etc are severe market distortions that makes such reasoning specious.

IMO if a company wants to benefit from copyright regulations, then they should have to escrow the buildable source code (the original creative work), to be released into the public domain when the copyright term is up.


> IMO if a company wants to benefit from copyright regulations, then they should have to escrow the buildable source code (the original creative work), to be released into the public domain when the copyright term is up.

That is definitely an opinion you can have. But it doesn't seem like there's any realistic chance of this happening in the United States.


Do you oppose all consumer protections or just this one?


This one specifically because:

1) It’s the one we’re talking about here

2) “All” is pretty broad


Your rationale seems equally applicable to any consumer protection though.


I think some things should have a higher standard than others. For example, medicine vs. video games. So not willing to apply the same standard to everything.


Then should there be a right to repair for software that is (embedded on) a medical device?


No, because I think it should be up to the maker whether they want to offer right to repair as a feature of their product.

Right to repair is not necessarily "better."




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: