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Senators attempt to neutralize cellphone bulk-unlocking 'poison pill'

updated 10:48 am EDT, Tue June 24, 2014

Proposal would allow resellers to mass-unlock phones for resale

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced on Monday an agreement on bipartisan legislation that would restore the ability of consumers to more easily transfer their cell phones to other wireless carriers, by making mass cellphone unlocking for resellers legal. The revision to existing legislation will be listed on the Judiciary Committee's agenda for this week's executive business meeting.

The "bulk unlocking" ban inserted into the previous bill was aimed to prevent businesses from buying subsidized phones, unlocking them, and reselling them in a grey market. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the amendment to stop this process, which could, in theory, disrupt existing business models.

Leahy, Grassley and a bipartisan group of cosponsors introduced the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act last year to restore an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) permitting consumers users to "unlock" their cell phones when their contract expires. The "Manager's Amendment" that Leahy and Grassley are releasing strikes a compromise that the pair says "promotes competition and improves consumer choice."

The EFF claims that the original bill, as proposed before the recently-introduced amendment, proves that Congress uses "copyright as an excuse to inhibit certain business models, even if the business isn't actually infringing anyone's copyright." Additionally, the EFF believes that "bulk unlocking not only benefits consumers, it's good for the environment -- unlocking allows re-use, and that means less electronic waste."

White House petition author Sina Khanifar says of the compromise that it is "a strong positive step towards making sure that people have the right to unlock their cell phones."

The exemption isn't permanent. The Library of Congress librarian can still reverse the exemption at the next rulemaking, which is not yet scheduled, but will likely happen in the next few years. Should momentum for the exemption continue, lawmakers could codify it into law before then, however.

by MacNN Staff



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