DMCA Used For Anti-Competitive Purposes… Again

from the a-waste-of-time-and-money dept

The DMCA was never supposed to be used for anti-competitive reasons. That was said repeatedly when it was first put into place and people raised objections. Yet, over and over again we hear cases where it’s obviously being used to stop competitors. The latest, as pointed out by the EFF, is that prepaid wireless provider Tracfone is suing a company that unlocks Tracfone handsets. Tracfone subsidizes the handsets to make it easier for people to buy them, but locks them down to keep people from taking them elsewhere. We actually wrote about this case last September, based on a Wired article that left the participants unnamed (since it was before the suit had been filed, and the writer only knew about it because she was contacted by the unlocking firm for advice on what to do about the cease & desist). Apparently, no one was able to convince Tracfone that using the DMCA as their weapon of choice was a bad idea, so now a lawsuit has been filed. These types of cases have had mixed results so far in the courts, with some rulings being better than others. The courts haven’t really set a clear precedent yet, which is unfortunate. Of course, what’s silly is that Tracfone could just do this contractually, forbidding anyone who buys a subsidized handset from using it on another network, rather than using the DMCA to go after the firm that does the unlocking. However, most people like to believe that they actually own the products they bought — which means they should be allowed to modify them, if they choose to do so. Well, at least Tracfone isn’t trying to throw the unlockers in jail, like some mobile operators.


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Comments on “DMCA Used For Anti-Competitive Purposes… Again”

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11 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Its Mine!

>

Because people don’t understand anything electronic. Look at it this way: People understand shoes. Nike has never sued people for drawing all over their shoes, putting in Dr. Scholes(sp) inserts, using oder eaters, or embroidering the word Converse in their shoes. Why? Because once you whip out your wallet, they become YOUR DAMNED SHOES.

Electronics (computers, phones, mp3 players, XBoxes, ect) have a bit of mystery surrounding them for most people. The technology is still (after all these years) new enough that the people who own it can bully people into believing that buying the product is mutually exclusive from owning the product, and owning the patent means that they own the product.

I’m waiting for GM, Ford, Mitsubishi, and other car companies to tell owners of cars that it is illegal to modify the motor, put in a lift kit, or drop the car and make it a low rider. It may screw up the warrenty, but the people doing it usually know that and accept that.

Jeff says:

Re: Re: Re: Its Mine!


I’m waiting for GM, Ford, Mitsubishi, and other car companies to tell owners of cars that it is illegal to modify the motor, put in a lift kit, or drop the car and make it a low rider. It may screw up the warrenty, but the people doing it usually know that and accept that.

I believe Ford tried that in the 60’s and a court ruled against them.

giafly says:

do this contractually

Re: Of course, what’s silly is that Tracfone could just do this contractually, forbidding anyone who buys a subsidized handset from using it on another network, rather than using the DMCA to go after the firm that does the unlocking.

A contract would only let them sue their customers who signed the contract, not the firm that does the unlocking. This is likely to worry future customers and so reduce sales (see previous Techdirt stories). So they preferred to use the DMCA.

Ted Smith (user link) says:

Wireless World: $30 billion in TV phones

CHICAGO, Feb. 17 (UPI) — The content isn’t quite up to the level of Kiefer Sutherland’s anti-terrorist, noir drama “24” just yet, but mobile TV enabled telephones are nonetheless poised for massive market growth, and experts tell United Press International’s Wireless World that the sales could reach $30 billion in the coming years.

A report released this week by Boston-based Strategy Analytics, called “TV Phones: Integration and Power Improvements Needed to Reach 100 Million Sales,” predicts that TV phone sales revenue will soar from $5 billion in this year to more than $30 billion by 2010.By Gene Koprowski

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