Activist launches campaign to change the DMCA

The author of a phone-unlocking petition targets broader reform of the copyright law

The author of a successful White House petition calling on government officials to legalize the unlocking of mobile phones has turned his attention to broader reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Sina Khanifar, the phone-unlocking entrepreneur behind the recent petition, launched FixTheDMCA.org Wednesday in an effort to push the U.S. Congress into changing the DMCA.

The new effort has the support of Mozilla, Reddit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and more than 30 tech companies, Khanifar said in an email.

Khanifar became involved in the issue after the Library of Congress allowed an exception to DMCA prosecution for unlocking mobile phones to expire in late January. Users typically unlock phones to switch carriers. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration voiced support for phone unlocking after Khanifar's petition received more than 114,000 signatures.

The new site helps visitors contact their lawmakers about the DMCA. "Since there's a lot of talk in D.C. about bills that would fix the unlocking issue, we want to move the conversation towards discussing and taking action on the source of the problems, and not simply address one of the symptoms," Khanifar said.

On Tuesday, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, introduced legislation to legalize the unlocking of mobile phones. Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, said she plans to introduce similar legislation.

A forum letter targeted at lawmakers on the FixTheDMCA site focuses on the section of the law, section 1201, that allows exceptions to DMCA prosecutions for circumventing copyright protections. The Library of Congress periodically reviews the exceptions and decides whether to remove or add exceptions for copyright technology circumvention activities.

The section "was originally written to protect copyright owners from privacy by outlawing 'circumvention of technological protection measures,'" the letter says. "But the broad language in the anti-circumvention provisions means that technologies such as carrier unlocking cell phones, 'jailbreaking' phones, tablets and games consoles, as well as creating non-infringing personal backups of DVDs are all in a legal grey area."

The letter asks lawmakers to support a rewrite of section 1201 of the DMCA that provides more protections for consumers and tech businesses.

Khanifar and his colleagues built the FixTheDMCA site in 72 hours on a Startup Bus trip from San Francisco to Austin, Texas, he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags redditAnna EshoolegislationgovernmentBarack ObamaElectronic Frontier FoundationmozillaSina Khanifarintellectual propertycopyrightRon WydenU.S. Library of Congresslegal

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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