Two Bay Area congresswomen have helped introduce a bill that would permanently guarantee consumers can unlock their cell phones, tablets, and other mobile communications devices in order to switch carriers.
H.R. 1892, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013, would give consumers new avenues to unlock their devices and media under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in ways that don’t infringe on copyright.
“This bill reflects the way we use this technology in our everyday lives,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who introduced the bill Wednesday, said in a news release. “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.”
Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act currently forbids sidestepping technical measures that prevent modifying copyrighted works – such as “jailbreaking” a tablet to run third-party apps, going around digital rights management for archiving or disability access purposes, or unlocking a cell phone – regardless of whether there is any actual copyright infringement.
The U.S. Copyright Office can add restrictions or remove exemptions under Section 1201 every three years; it created an exemption for cell phone unlocking in 2010, and then took it away again in 2013, making cell phone unlocking illegal once more. Most other proposals in Congress would just extend the prior cell phone unlocking exemption for another three years.
This new bill would make it permanently legal for consumers to unlock their mobile devices, and consumers would not be required to obtain permission from their carrier before switching to a new carrier. It also would allow the use and sale of tools – like software apps – that enable unlocking for uses that don’t infringe on copyright. The president would be required to ensure that international trade agreements reflect the new law.