Keeping service manuals away from independant repair shops

In the automotive world, federal legislation requires auto manufacturers to provide manuals to independent shops. Some organizations, like AllData and Mitchell 1, collect manuals from every manufacturer, bundle them together, and sell subscriptions – creating jobs for their over 100,000 mechanics. Independent shops wouldn’t be able to repair modern cars without this information.

Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent legislation for electronics… It’s illegal to redistribute copyrighted service manuals without manufacturer consent. Even so, a number of websites provide these critical documents to the service techs who need them.

Tim Hicks is a 25-year-old Australian with an interesting hobby: He trawls the nooks and crannies of the internet looking for manufacturer service manuals and posts the PDFs online for free. Hicks was frustrated that there wasn’t a single website out there with every laptop service manual. He started the site — aptly named “Tim’s Laptop Service Manuals” — because he fixes laptops himself.

Tim’s site now streams over 50 gigabytes of manuals every day. Or rather … it used to. In a recent strongly worded cease-and-desist letter, Toshiba’s lawyers forced Tim to remove manuals for over 300 Toshiba laptops.

Keeping manuals off the internet ensures the only path for beleaguered customers is sending broken devices back to high-priced, only-manufacturer-authorized service centers. By making it so expensive and inconvenient to repair broken electronics, this policy amounts to planned obsolescence: many people simply throw the devices away.

– Exerpted from The Shady World of Repair Manuals: Copyrighting for Planned Obsolescence by Kyle Wiens, published in Wired magazine.

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