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A Medical Device Maker Threatens iFixit Over Ventilator Repair Project

iFixit has built a comprehensive online database of repair manuals for ventilators and medical equipment to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. Last week it received a letter claiming copyright infringement.

A popular website with a comprehensive database of repair manuals for ventilators and other medical devices has received a letter from a medical equipment company saying that its copyrights are being infringed.

Kyle Wiens, CEO of the repair website iFixit—which posts guides on how to repair anything from sewing machines to video game consoles—shared the letter on Twitter Thursday, sent to him by counsel for Steris Corporation, which makes sterilization and other medical equipment. “It has come to my attention that you have been reproducing certain installation and maintenance manuals relating to our products, documentation which is protected by copyright law,” the letter said. The letter then went on to tell Wiens to remove all Steris copyrighted material from the iFixit website within 10 days of the letter.

As Motherboard reported in March, major manufacturers of medical devices have long made it difficult for their devices to be repaired through third party repair professionals. Manufacturers have often lobbied against right to repair legislation and many medical devices are controlled by artificial “software locks” that allow only those with authorization to make modifications.

As reported by VICE News last week, a repair technician contracted to repair ventilators for hospitals preparing for COVID-19 said he has struggled to get repair parts or manuals from manufacturers when he has made requests to them.

“I'm disappointed that Steris is resorting to legal threats to stop hospitals from having access to information about how to maintain critical sterilization equipment during a pandemic,” Wiens told Motherboard in an email.

Wiens said he got the idea to post service manuals for medical equipment on iFixit when he began seeing stories about ventilator shortages in Italy. When he saw how some people were using 3-D printers to create ventilator replacement valves, he said he was inspired to create the database of medical equipment guides as a way to help. “No manufacturer should be stopping hospitals from repairing their equipment,” Wiens said. “The best way to ensure patient safety is to make sure that equipment is being maintained regularly using the manufacturer's recommended procedures. The only way to do that is if hospitals have up to date manuals.” With regards to the letter sent by Steris, Wiens said iFixit has not removed any material from its website. “We explained to Steris that what we did is a lawful and protected fair use under the U.S. Copyright act,” Wiens said.

"iFixit is protected by Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows online platforms to host content contributed by users provided they comply with the Act’s requirements, which iFixit does," a letter to Steris from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of iFixit said.




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