Posted: May 18th, 2013 by Militant Libertarian
The Library of Congress sparked a firestorm late last year when it issued new rules that made it effectively illegal to unlock a cell phone to switch to a new wireless carrier. An online petition on the issue attracted more than 100,000 signatures and prompted a White House statement criticizing the new rule. Members of Congress sprang into action, introducing at least three bills to deal with the issue.
But copyright reform groups panned these bills. Not only did they provide only narrow and temporary relief on the cell phone unlocking issue, the groups said, but they completely ignored the underlying problem: a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that makes it a crime to “circumvent” copy protection even for lawful purposes.
New legislation sponsored by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO) takes a broader approach to the issue. In addition to explicitly legalizing cell phone unlocking, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 also modifies the DMCA to make clear that unlocking copy-protected content is only illegal if it’s done in order to “facilitate the infringement of a copyright.” If a circumvention technology is “primarily designed or produced for the purpose of facilitating noninfringing uses,” that would not be a violation of copyright.
For example, Lofgren’s bill would likely make it legal for consumers to rip DVDs for personal use in much the same way they’ve long ripped CDs. It would remove legal impediments to making versions of copyrighted works that are accessible to blind users. And it would ensure that car owners have the freedom to service their vehicles without running afoul of copyright law.