You signed the contract, paid out the wazoo for it, and after two years of forced commitment your smartphone is now yours. Or is it?
If you fully own the device, it stands to reason that you could do just about anything with it, including unlock it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for those of us in the United States.
It used to be that cellphone unlocking was perfectly legit, thanks to an exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This changed when the Library of Congress decided to let the exemption expire.
Shortly after that, a petition rose up asking for the White House to act. Several bills were introduced that looked to make things right, but all of them ignored what copyright reform activists felt is the root of the issue, the DMCA’s current anti-circumvention provisions.
Luckily there is a new bill on its way that looks to finally address all the issues surrounding cellphone unlocking.
The latest legislation is sponsored by Zoe Lofgren (Democrat, CA), Thomas Massie (Republican, KY), Anna Eshoo (Democrat, CA) and Jared Polis (Democrat, CO).
The “Unlocking Technology Act of 2013” not only makes it legal to unlock cell phones, it also modifies the DMCA to clarify that unlocking copy-protected content is only illegal if it is done as a way to infringe on copyright law.
In other words, if you have rights to the device (like your phone), it is perfectly acceptable to circumvent copyright protection on it, as long as you aren’t intending to share it or use it for some other illegal purpose.
What makes this act interesting is that it doesn’t just affect phones. It would also be legit to rip DVDs for personal use, such as turning them into digital content for your tablets and smartphones.
As Rep. Lofgren puts it:
“Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased”. “If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, there’s little reason to hold back the benefits of unlocking so people can continue using their devices.”
This new bill is an important step in the right direction, both when it comes to phones and to our digital content.
You might be thinking, “but really, does it even matter. I mean they couldn’t have caught me for unlocking my device even when it was illegal”. While you are probably right, remember that some folks rely on outside services for unlocking their phones, or utilize special software. Making these methods legal, make life easier for all involved.
Largely it’s about peace of mind, and knowing that what you’re actions won’t run you afoul with the law.