Third mobile-phone-unlocking bill introduced

Momentum to overturn the Library of Congress' decision seems to be building

Momentum is growing in the U.S. Congress to overturn a U.S. Library of Congress ruling that took mobile phone unlocking out of the legal exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Late Monday, a group of senators and representatives, including the chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and the House Judiciary committees, introduced legislation that would temporarily reverse the Library of Congress' decision to remove mobile phone unlocking from the legal exemptions to prosecution under the DMCA.

Among the sponsors of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act are Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican and Leahy's House counterpart. The bill is the third introduced to legalize mobile phone unlocking, typically used to switch carriers.

"This straightforward restoring bill is about promoting consumer rights," Leahy said in a statement. "When consumers finish the terms of their contract, they should be able to keep their phones and make their own decision about which wireless provider to use."

The legislation is co-sponsored by several other members of both committees, indicating it is likely to move forward.

Leahy was chief sponsor of the controversial copyright enforcement bill Protect IP Act during the last session of Congress, and Goodlatte was a co-sponsor of the similar Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Phone unlocking entrepreneur Sina Khanifar, author of a successful WhiteHouse.gov petition objecting to the Library of Congress' decision, said the bill from Leahy and Goodlatte doesn't go far enough, because it would only reverse the decision for three years.

"At best it is a very temporary fix to an ongoing problem," Khanifar said in an email. "In 2015, the librarian of congress will go through the exemption rulemaking process again. The librarian may decide to remove the unlocking exemption again then, causing the whole problem all over again."

The bill doesn't address problems with the process to create exemptions to the DMCA, he added. Consumers need a permanent exemption for phone unlocking, he said. The new bill "falls far short of that," he added.

Digital rights group Public Knowledge raised the same concerns. "This only serves as, at best, a three-year band-aid on the larger problem," Chris Lewis, the group's vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. "Furthermore, the bill does not require that the library reach a different decision on unlocking."

This is the third phone unlocking bill introduced in recent days. A week ago, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, introduced a phone unlocking bill, and late last week, Senator Amy Klobuhar, a Minnesota Democrat, and other lawmakers introduced the Wireless Consumer Choice Act.

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 governmentcopyrightsmartphoneslegislationlegalconsumer electronicsintellectual propertyPatrick LeahyPublic KnowledgeU.S. House of RepresentativesU.S. SenateRon WydenBob GoodlatteAmy KlobucharU.S. Library of CongressSina KhanifarChris Lewis

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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