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Senate passes cellphone unlocking bill, reconciliation fight starts

updated 03:29 pm EDT, Wed July 16, 2014

Disparate versions of the bill need to be combined before Presidential review

The US Senate has passed a controversial bill allowing customers to unlock off-contract cell phones. With a unanimous vote, the Senate's passage of the bill directs the Librarian of Congress, the authority for rulemaking for such matters, to "consider whether other wireless devices, like tablets, should [also] be eligible for unlocking." The bill has a ways to go before it reaches the President's desk, however. A similar bill, passed by the House of Representatives, needs to be reconciled with this version of the bill -- the House's version of the bill does not contain language allowing bulk unlocking by companies.

The bill as proposed amends part of the DMCA to so that it would not be a violation "to circumvent a technological measure in connection with a work protected under this title if the purpose of such circumvention is to engage in a use that is not an infringement of copyright."

The US House of Representatives approved a version of the bill legalizing cellphone unlocking, against the will of the groups who originally sponsored the bill in the first place. The bill has a "poison pill" attached, preventing companies from bulk-unlocking devices for resale. If approved, the proposed bill extends an exemption currently in place for two years that temporarily allows cellphone unlocking, instead of the originally-proposed permanent solution.

The "bulk unlocking" ban is ostensibly 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 form of bulk unlocking.

The EFF claims that the House bill as passed, with the poison pill, 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."

by MacNN Staff





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