A Year And A Half Later, Unlocking Your Phone One Step Closer To Being Legal
from the congress-moves-in-mysteriously-slow-ways dept
A year and a half ago, unlocking your mobile phone became illegal thanks to a combination of ridiculous factors, mainly predicated on the DMCA and the way some people interpret its anti-circumvention provisions. For years the Librarian of Congress had carved out a special exemption for phone unlocking — but what the omnipotent copyright gods of the Librarian of Congress giveth, they can also taketh away, and they did. The situation was so ridiculous that over 100,000 people quickly signed a White House petition protesting this, and the White House (with surprising speed) agreed that phone unlocking should be legal. Though, somewhat bizarrely, the White House seemed to think it was an issue for the FCC to fix, rather than recognizing the underlying fault of copyright law.
Various proposals were raised, but thanks to ridiculous international trade agreements, some of the best proposals ended up on the cutting room floor. I spoke to two separate Congressional staffers who had written up bills to legalize phone unlocking, only to have their international trade experts come in and reject them as likely violating a whole bunch of secretly negotiated trade agreements (and you wonder why we’re concerned about things like TPP and TTIP limiting Congress…).
It took about a year before the House finally came up with a bill that had some significant limitations and problems. Despite some last minute protests, that bill passed. Since then, there’s been a fair bit of negotiating in the Senate, and it appears that a compromise deal has been struck that should, hopefully, finally legalize phone unlocking a year and a half later. The Senate bill is not perfect (almost no legislation ever is), but it’s a big step forward in the right direction.
It still is ridiculous that we’re in this situation in the first place, and it should be a sign to look more closely at the problems of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention laws. It’s equally ridiculous that it’s taken a year and a half to “fix” this specific problem, but at least it finally appears that a solution is at hand for the specific issue of unlocking your mobile phone.