On July 29th, Fox News interviewed social media expert and intellectual property lawyer Daliah Saper about Congress’s newly passed legislation allowing individual consumers to unlock their cell-phones under certain circumstances. After briefly explaining the short history behind the bill and the bill’s implications and limitations, Daliah emphasizes that the legislation is a “moral victory” for consumers, who now have greater choices because of their grassroots political efforts.
To watch the entire interview, click on the link below:
Will Legalizing Cell Phone Unlocking Benefit You?
This legislation began as a viral petition on the White House website, garnering over 112,000 signatures. Despite heavy lobbying by the telecom industry against the bill, the legislation was passed–though several key provisions were left out.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to circumvent a “technological measure” to access copyrighted work. The Copyright Office grants exemptions to that rule every three years. Up until 2012, the Copyright Office had granted an exemption for cell-phone unlocking. This exemption permitted people to switch to a new network, so long as they completed their original contract. In the Copyright Office’s 2012 review, however, the Librarian of Congress deemed this practice to be copyright infringement, did not renew the exemption, and thereby made phone unlocking illegal.
The New Law
The recent legislation passed by Congress basically reinstates the old exemption, despite the Copyright Office’s decision not to renew it; however, the law leaves it up to the Library of Congress whether or not to reinstate the ban next year.
Caveats and Limitations
While a step in the right direction, the new law has many limitations. First, the legislation only allows individuals and the people they direct to unlock the phones for personal use. This means that a person can only unlock her phone for her own personal use–she can’t unlock a phone to sell it to a third-party. Moreover, if a cellphone user is still under a subsidized contract, she will not be able to unlock her phone. Most importantly, legalizing the unlocking of cellphones doesn’t necessarily mean it can be done technically. Since telecom companies use different technologies for their services, individuals cannot simply switch between Verizon and AT&T, or between Verizon and Sprint, by just unlocking their phones.
While phone carriers and service providers still severely limit consumer choice, this is at least takes out one brick in the proverbial wall.