updated 04:10 pm EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Bill headed to oval office, with Obama willing to sign
In an unexpected move -- and avoiding a potential fight -- the House of Representatives has passed bill S517, aiming to make cellphone unlocking legal. The amended bill, passed by the Senate last week, was passed with no changes. A controversial clause of the bill previously passed by the House, prohibiting bulk unlocking by companies, was removed from the final passed version.
The Republican-controlled House originally approved a version of the bill legalizing cellphone unlocking, but with a "poison pill" attached, preventing companies from bulk-unlocking devices for resale. This caused the groups who originally sponsored the bill in the first place to object to it. The Senate version took out the bulk-unlocking restriction, and it was this version that has now passed both houses of Congress.
"This is something that Americans have been asking for, and I am pleased that we were able to work together to ensure the swift passage of legislation restoring the exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their cell phones," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said regarding the passage of the bill. Goodlatte opposed bulk unlocking initially, and was the author of the "poison pill" clause.
The bill also 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 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."
President Obama has declared that "the bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget." He has noted that he will sign the bill as it stands.