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Reps Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Legalize Mobile Device Unlocking 133

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the bills-that-shouldn't-need-writing dept.
New submitter tomservo84 writes "It seems some people in the House of Reps have their heads screwed on straight. A bill would 'make it permanently legal for consumers to unlock their mobile devices, and consumers would not be required to obtain permission from their carrier before switching to a new carrier.' 'This bill reflects the way we use this technology in our everyday lives,' Rep. Lofgren said. 'Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased. If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, there's little reason to hold back the benefits of unlocking so people can continue using their devices.' Now, what chance does this have of actually passing?"
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Reps Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Legalize Mobile Device Unlocking

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  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@@@aol...com> on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:08AM (#43683553) Journal

    This administration is owned by enormous corporations - and Obama just nominated a Telecom lobbyist to head the FCC (after promising during his campaign that there would be no lobbyists in his administration). Seriously. There is zero chance he would sign this bill were it to find its way to his desk.

    • by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:21AM (#43683633) Homepage

      This administration did criticize the Librarian of Congress for the unlocking rules change though.

      • by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:23AM (#43683649)

        How many things have they criticized about the Bush administration, and then copied?

        Criticism means nothing without actions to back it up.

        • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@@@aol...com> on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:24AM (#43683655) Journal

          Agreed. I think "nominating Telecom lobbyist to head FCC" is an action that soundly trumps "feigned criticism of the LoC."

        • by Atzanteol (99067) on Friday May 10, 2013 @09:08AM (#43683979) Homepage

          Looking for the +6 mod. WHY IS THERE NO +6 MOD?

        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          "Covenants without swords are but words." - Hobbes.

          Not the stuffed tiger, the other one.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Maybe the librarian saw that this needed to be codified into law. He/She set the example and authorized it then stopped basically telling Congress to do its job.
        • by GlobalEcho (26240)

          Mod parent up...the LoC did a great job -- more than anyone else around -- of pushing Congress in the direction of doing the right thing.

    • by jythie (914043)
      This or any other administration we are likely to see. Neither party is in favor of weakening telecoms and infringing on their 'rights' to do what they like with their customers. While the democrats have more of a reputation for being in the pocket of media+telecom, both parties are heavily influenced by both lobbies.
      • by sconeu (64226)

        you mean "'rights' to do what they like *TO* their customers"

    • by tatman (1076111)
      Agreed. And not just the administration. Congress is too. During election season congress runs around blabbing they are for the people and as soon as session starts, its back to voting for the people that put campaign $ in their pockets. No matter what party, follow the money $.
    • by Sloppy (14984)

      So what? Congress should pass it anyway. If he vetos, he vetos. And then Congress will get to call him an obstructionist for a change, and all his cred will be gone. And if it ever got that far anyway (it probably won't) the critters who prevent an override will be hounded until they lose their re-elections.

      You don't simply not try, based on the idea that someone of dubious motive (and dubious level of power) might oppose you. Fight.

    • by Paul Slocum (598127) on Friday May 10, 2013 @10:43AM (#43684885) Homepage Journal
      The White House's official position [whitehouse.gov] is that they support legalization of phone unlocking.
    • calculation (Score:2, Troll)

      by stenvar (2789879)

      I think there's a good chance this administration will sign it and take credit for it: it's popular, yet it's largely a meaningless gesture in the US markets (people are still locked into contracts, and most phones are still incompatible between carriers). That's the kind ot stuff the Obama administration loves to do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:09AM (#43683563)

    "Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased"

    MEDIA???? No way the media cartels will give up all the monstrous legislation around copyright circumvention.

    Certainly the good Congressman misspoke.

  • A bit late (Score:5, Interesting)

    by diakka (2281) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:22AM (#43683641)

    This bill would have never passed when it actually meant something to consumers. With the plethora of unlocked devices available on the market, T-Mobile has already begun offering favorable deals on no-contract plans where you pay for your own device, so it's only a matter of time before the rest follow suit. If this actually does pass, it just means that the financial incentive to the phone companies was simply too small to justify the cost of supporting a lobby against it.

    • by Shanrak (1037504)
      Exactly. I never understood why they bother to lock the phones in the first place. If you have a 2 year contract, they have your money already for that long. Locking the phone doesn't gain them anything. If you want to unlock your phone and go somewhere else, they just get free money out of you since now they don't have to provide you any service.
      • I've always heard it explained that U.S. carriers lock the phones so that they can continue to charge still-paying-off-the-subsidy rates even after the 2-year contract has ended.
        • by diakka (2281)

          That is just the tip of the iceberg. The real benefit to the companies is not just the money they make from one individual customer, but by making contracts standard behavior, it makes the market less fluid and competitive. Customers can't easily switch to a slightly cheaper carrier before the contract is up, and so the carriers can continue to gouge the customers and keep profit margins from thinning out over time.

        • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:57AM (#43683895)

          I've always heard it explained that U.S. carriers lock the phones so that they can continue to charge still-paying-off-the-subsidy rates even after the 2-year contract has ended.

          As an American, I can say the following. Those of you who don't live in the USA need to understand that everything is different here. Sometimes in good ways, but maybe most of the time in bad ways. Few Americans travel internationally so the demand for unlocked phones specifically to use them in other countries is quite low. For years, even after you finished a contract AT&T and other providers were rather infamous for refusing to unlock your phones. T-Mobile was an exception to this at the time as they had a policy to unlock your phone if you asked them to do so after your contract ended. Maybe it is different now and everybody unlocks when your contract is up. But perhaps 7-8 years ago, AT&T would tell you to suck it if you asked them unlock a phone after your contract ended with them. By keeping the phones locked, they were able to prevent people from moving to other carriers. Many people keep their phones for years after the original contract is done just to save money and by refusing to unlock them, those people found it cheaper to just stay with the carrier that locked them in than to get a new phone and possibly a new carrier. Also, those of you who don't live in the USA would not believe how much all the phone carriers bitched about being required by law to allow customers to move phone numbers to other carriers when their contracts ended. For years this was not possible, so some people also didn't ever change carriers just so they could keep the same phone number. So all this led to a situation where there was little demand for unlocking.

          • by MrNJ (955045) on Friday May 10, 2013 @09:13AM (#43684025)
            As an American I needed to unlock one of my phone about 2 weeks ago and my ATT contract was not up yet. I called ATT, gave them IMEI and within a minute they gave me an unlock code. I had the same experience previously. Not once was I denied an unlock request. Perhaps if you have the phone by a specific manufacturer, they don't allow unlocking. But it's not ATT's fault.
            • by SuperAlgae (953330) on Friday May 10, 2013 @09:45AM (#43684321)

              I got a fully paid phone (won as a door prize) unlocked by AT&T back around 2005, but I had to go through multiple levels of customer support to do it-- took a lot longer than a minute. It is somewhat surprising that they unlocked a phone for you while still under contract, but technically they don't need the phone to be locked if the contract's early termination fee covers the phone subsidy.

              Manufacturers generally have no interest in locking the phone (definitely not to a carrier and often not even the bootloader). It does not benefit them. It's the carriers that want locking and will usually make that a requirement before subsidizing or promoting the phone.

          • by mrbester (200927)

            This is part of the problem with legislation. It should be a case of "if not explicitly forbidden" (like murder) then it is allowed. You know, freedom and all that. Now there is so much "if not explicitly allowed" (like transferring to a different carrier) then it is forbidden that it muddies the waters unnecessarily.

            Instead of adding more contrary viewpoint legislation, existing legislation should be amended to reflect it. In this case it should be "carriers are forbidden from refusing transfers / unlockin

          • by gl4ss (559668)

            it just goes back to the '90s. everything is actually the same, except this one thing: your legislation allowed locked devices and incompatible technologies.

          • by stenvar (2789879)

            I haven't had a locked phone in the US in 15 years, and I have used every major carrier. If you buy a locked phone on the "overpriced plan for stupid people", that's really your own fault. On the whole, in my experience, US and European cell phone service end up being fairly comparable in price and performance.

          • I took my old ATT phone to the store to have them unlock it. They couldn't be bothered to do it. They did however tell me to Google Free Nokia Unlock codes and do it myself. This is an improvement.

            I heard a phone manufacture with rising sales overseas has no US sales because no US carrier will buy them because it has all the carrier's bands in it. The carrier's way to maintain lock-in is to refuse to sell phones that could work on all services.

            If you do buy the phone overseas and then sign up in the US

      • by whoever57 (658626)

        Exactly. I never understood why they bother to lock the phones in the first place. If you have a 2 year contract, they have your money already for that long. Locking the phone doesn't gain them anything.

        What about pre-paid plans where there is no contract?

        • by CCarrot (1562079)

          Exactly. I never understood why they bother to lock the phones in the first place. If you have a 2 year contract, they have your money already for that long. Locking the phone doesn't gain them anything.

          What about pre-paid plans where there is no contract?

          Umm...they're pre paid? As in, already paid for?

          You certainly can't get a hardware subsidy for a prepaid phone, and if you choose not to use your remaining purchased time on the carrier before switching to someone else, why would they care?

          The only thing locking the hardware does for them is make it very difficult for their customers to rate shop.

          • by whoever57 (658626)

            Umm...they're pre paid? As in, already paid for?

            In pre-paid phones what is pre-paid for is the service: the minutes, data, etc..

            Just as printer manufacturers can sell printers at a discount knowing that there is a high likelihood (but no contract) that you will buy ink from them, phone companies can discount a locked phone, knowing that there is a high likelihood that you will buy more minutes from them.

            • by CCarrot (1562079)

              Umm...they're pre paid? As in, already paid for?

              In pre-paid phones what is pre-paid for is the service: the minutes, data, etc..

              Just as printer manufacturers can sell printers at a discount knowing that there is a high likelihood (but no contract) that you will buy ink from them, phone companies can discount a locked phone, knowing that there is a high likelihood that you will buy more minutes from them.

              Oh, that's an interesting business model...I don't think that's how it works up here in Canada though. The phones with a prepaid or pay as you go plan are (as far as I've seen) only available at full price, or maybe a *slight* discount if you find a sale. Could be that some of our carriers do the same, I've just never seen that before :) Very weird.

              Okay, scratch that. I just double checked with some Canadian carriers: looks like if you go 'prepaid', you get the phone for about half the price that they c

      • Re:A bit late (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:35AM (#43683721) Homepage

        I never understood why they bother to lock the phones in the first place.

        Oh, I can think of some reasons:
        1. So they can sell the right to install an app on a phone that a consumer can't get rid of.
        2. So they can set up "app stores" that collect a significant cut of whatever the user wants to buy.
        3. So they can prevent third parties from creating and selling alternative services to their own products that are cheaper and/or better.
        4. To reduce the number of ways a user can mess it up.

        • I never understood why they bother to lock the phones in the first place.

          Oh, I can think of some reasons:
          1. So they can sell the right to install an app on a phone that a consumer can't get rid of.
          2. So they can set up "app stores" that collect a significant cut of whatever the user wants to buy.
          3. So they can prevent third parties from creating and selling alternative services to their own products that are cheaper and/or better.
          4. To reduce the number of ways a user can mess it up.

          I am a horrible slashdotter. I did not simply read the article, I read the fine legislation being proposed - as in the literal bill looking to get passed, as is linked in the article.

          As best I can tell, the bill refers to SIM unlocking only, for the purposes of moving a cell phone between carriers. It does not appear to have any accommodations for rooting/jailbreaking/HardSPLing, except to say that you're not infringing if the purpose of rooting your phone is the means to the end of performing a baseband un

        • All of these can be circumvented without unlocking. Installing CyanogenMod etc doesn't actually unlock your phone, the modem is still locked to one carrier.

      • Exactly. I never understood why they bother to lock the phones in the first place. If you have a 2 year contract, they have your money already for that long. Locking the phone doesn't gain them anything. If you want to unlock your phone and go somewhere else, they just get free money out of you since now they don't have to provide you any service.

        Locking the phone prevents users using third-party SIMs for cheaper international and/or data rates. For example, O2 in the UK posts a rate of £6 (around $9) per megabyte when roaming in the U.S. It'd be way cheaper to buy a pre-paid SIM, one of which I looked at offers 500GB of data over seven days for just $25.

        It's one of a few reasons that I'm never again entering in to a long-term contract with a carrier. I don't want a gimped phone, and I definitely don't want to be tied to a carrier for an

    • With the plethora of unlocked devices available on the market, T-Mobile has already begun offering favorable deals on no-contract plans

      Phones aren't the only locked-down devices. Several devices are locked down in a sense even when used on Wi-Fi. These include at least game consoles (PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS) and Apple tablets (iPod touch, iPad mini, iPad), all of which enforce developer qualifications and application restrictions through code signing. I haven't read the bill yet, only the section-by-section summary. But if it does limit the access control provision to facilitating infringement as the summary claims, that would make

      • Phones aren't the only locked-down devices. Several devices are locked down in a sense even when used on Wi-Fi.

        You are confusing "locked down" and "locked to a carrier". If you are not interested at all in a phone but you want an iPod, you could look on eBay for a cheap used iPhone. But because it is locked to the carrier it won't work without the right SIM card. Obviously you can't make phone calls without a SIM, but because of the carrier lock, you can't use it at all. You have to find out the carrier, and get a SIM card, in order for the phone to be used just as an iPod. (No big problem in the UK because most car

        • You are confusing "locked down" and "locked to a carrier".

          I was addressing diakka's claim that this bill doesn't "actually mean[] something to consumers." The bill appears to address both the concepts of "locked down" and "locked to a carrier".

    • Sounds about right. Regardless, some quick consoling thoughts:

      "Better late than never"

      "A win is a win"
    • No offense to T-Mobile users, but T-Mobile and Sprint really aren't playing the same game as ATT and Verizon. I doubt ATT and Verizon will make any changes until either they start loosing market share to T-Mobile or the other of the two makes the change first. Verizon isn't going to change their business model if it's not in their best interest as a company. In this case, their best interests may not be their customers best interests.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:29AM (#43683697)

    This bill goes way beyond cellphones. According to the summary posted on the linked article, the bill's text "makes clear that it is not a violation to circumvent a technological measure if the purpose of the circumvention is to use a work in a manner that is not an infringement of copyright." In other words, it neuters the infamous anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA!

    • That's what really interested me. It seems to apply to media as well as phones. Basically, it says that circumvention a DRM scheme isn't against the law if you aren't also breaking copyright. So if you rip a DVD that you legally own (e.g. purchased at a store) and store that rip on your home server for only you to use, you would be within the law. In addition, DVD ripping programs to help people do this would be legal. But ripping a DVD and uploading it to your favorite file sharing program/site would

      • by mrbester (200927)

        That would be the "fair use" legislation that already exists, allowing you to make a backup copy, right?

        • by PhilHibbs (4537)

          Yes, absolutely. However, it needs to be made clear that this is still the case despite the DMCA, hence the bill "makes clear that it is not a violation".

        • That would be the "fair use" legislation that already exists, allowing you to make a backup copy, right?

          Any "fair use" possibilities get stopped by the DMCA because if it's an encrypted disc you have to first break the encryption which is not protected by fair use.

      • by Sloppy (14984)

        So if you rip a DVD that you legally own (e.g. purchased at a store)

        Hey guys, just wanna step in on a tiny little issue here. The word is "play" not "rip." DMCA doesn't contain a single word that relates, in any way, to what happens to the data after it has been descrambled, or why you were doing that. Indeed, that was the whole problem in the first place. Whether you immediately send the plaintext to a video decoder and show it on the screen, or write the plaintext to a file for more convenient playbac

    • by mark-t (151149)
      When part of the definition of "infringing on copyright" now includes the circumvention of such technological measures anyways, such verbiage is itself rendered just as neutered as you suggest it might do to the DMCA itself
  • ... If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law,

    It was always the case that phone unlocking would be against the DMCA. For many years there was a DMCA exemption that allowed unlocking even though it was against the DMCA, that is not gone. So unlocking _does_violate copyright.

    So Rep. Lofgren has to change his bill a bit: To declare the act of unlocking your phone not a copyright violation.

    • by nmoore (22729)
      It doesn't violate copyright, it violates the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions—exactly the thing that the current proposal would change. Part of the proposed change:

      It shall not be a violation of this section 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 under this title.

      Circumventing an access control measure was never (by itself) an "infringement of

      • by Qzukk (229616)

        It shall not be a violation of this section 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 under this title.

        Yep, that's going to have to be stricken from the final bill.

        -- MPAA

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      So unlocking _does_violate copyright.

      No. Violating DMCA and infringing copyright are two different, distinct things. Unlocking phones doesn't, and never has, involve infringing copyright. DMCA prohibited a bunch of non-infringing activities; it did not redefine what was infringing. It's part of the same "title" of US Code as copyright, but it's not the same thing as copyright. HTH.

  • My best guess is that a bunch of our "brilliant" legislators have been burned by this (unlockable phones) and are now going to do something about it! :rolleyes:
  • Dear Congress.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:53AM (#43683843) Homepage

    Simply Repeal the DMCA. Making NEW laws to fix broken ones is not the answer. Start repealing laws that have no use except to force an iron fist around consumers.

    • Simply Repeal the DMCA.

      Please be careful in how you phrase that. The DMCA is a bundle of several independent pieces of copyright-related legislation. Repealing the DMCA as a whole would repeal not only the anticircumvention provisions (17 USC 1201) but also the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (17 USC 512), which protects YouTube and other service providers from liability for its users' infringement. Viacom would have cause to sue YouTube.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        I will take that over the abomination that is the rest of the DMCA.
        Same as the PATRIOT act needs to be repealed, I dont care what good is in it, the Evil outweighs the good so badly, that anyone would be happy to trade that.

    • Well, yes, but I'm willing to support this as an interim step (since the actual repeal of the DMCA is a pipe dream at the moment). I think this will have enormous opposition from the content industry and it will take a Herculean effort for this common sense bill to prevail.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If they're talking about unlocking cell phones from a specific carrier, that almost doesn't matter anymore. With each carrier getting different 4G/LTE frequencies it's physically impossible to easily switch. So few phones are pentaband and all that, the device availability of phones that work on multiple carriers at the fully rated speed is next to nil. If I have to use 2G/3G as a result of switching, I'm definitely ditching my phone and buying a new one at the new carrier.

    This is quite sad after the glo

  • This outcome is exactly what the Librarian of Congress sought when he withdrew the DMCA exemption for cellphones, and I'm thrilled it's working out like this. Many people here complained at the time, but it was obvious to many others how useful the withdrawal would ultimately be.

    Had he continued the exemption, the cause of locked hardware would have remained uninteresting to the public, and ignored by Congress. Now, we have a fighting chance at rational legislation.

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday May 10, 2013 @09:54AM (#43684429) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, read it [house.gov]. It starts out by truly fixing some of the most egregious brain damage and expansiveness of DMCA, making it into a legitimate copyright law. The cellphone unlocking technicality is just one a thousand bugs this fixes; the bill would also legalize making/selling/using ink cartridges, legalize the playing the DVDs that you have bought, etc. If DMCA had passed originally in this form, it would be much less destructive and hated.

    After the first part, then it looks like it does something benevolent related to phones specifically, but to some code I'm unfamiliar with. Then it takes a shot at WIPO.

    Overall, this is a no-brainer, and anyone who opposes it, will be outed. That means they'll kill it in some committee, but just in case they don't, remember names and who votes for/against. Reward and punish, based on this one, right here.

    • by rwyoder (759998)

      Seriously, read it [house.gov]. It starts out by truly fixing some of the most egregious brain damage and expansiveness of DMCA, making it into a legitimate copyright law. The cellphone unlocking technicality is just one a thousand bugs this fixes; the bill would also legalize making/selling/using ink cartridges, legalize the playing the DVDs that you have bought, etc. If DMCA had passed originally in this form, it would be much less destructive and hated.

      After the first part, then it looks like it does something benevolent related to phones specifically, but to some code I'm unfamiliar with. Then it takes a shot at WIPO.

      Overall, this is a no-brainer, and anyone who opposes it, will be outed. That means they'll kill it in some committee, but just in case they don't, remember names and who votes for/against. Reward and punish, based on this one, right here.

      Pssst! Jared Polis is already "out". ;-)

    • by CCarrot (1562079)

      Seriously, read it [house.gov]. It starts out by truly fixing some of the most egregious brain damage and expansiveness of DMCA, making it into a legitimate copyright law. The cellphone unlocking technicality is just one a thousand bugs this fixes; the bill would also legalize making/selling/using ink cartridges, legalize the playing the DVDs that you have bought, etc. If DMCA had passed originally in this form, it would be much less destructive and hated.

      Hence the reason they didn't do it this way in the first place.

      "Hey, WTF man? You're cutting my whole leg off here!"
      "Oh, sorry, how about just a foot then? Or, tell you what, let's just take the big toe and we'll call it even, okay?"
      "Ahh, that's so much better, thanks!"

      By making a big show of generously granting people rights that they already had, they can paper over the rest of the shoddy framework (takedown notice abuses, copyright trolling, etc., etc.) For bonus points, they'll have people feeling do

    • To be specific, it adds the following text to the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA:

      It shall not be a violation of this section 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 under this title.

      So if you're doing something that's fair use, this provision no longer applies to it. That's a huge improvement.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Write to your congressperson! Write to your senators! Write to everybody! If enough people write, then maybe there's a chance this will pass.

  • If there has ever been something un-american and un-capitalist, then this ban on unlocking. It is anti-competition and anti-innovation, it keeps people from doing their job in a capitalist world (awarding money to those that provide them with the best product) and generally, voting against the ban pretty much means that you're either un-american or in the pockets of some media concern.

    Now try to weasel out of that one!

  • by rjr162 (69736)

    I had actually contacted BOTH my state senators about this.. and it was actually the republican's office who told me about the democrat who was introduction a bill along these lines.. and I'm glad to see this news!

  • Any artificial limitation, which puts somebody else's economic interests ahead of the interests of the owner of the device, should not have been legal in the first place.

    A digital camera, which cannot store more than 30 pictures on a 128MB storage card when using the best quality setting is a limitation which exists for a good technical reason. Such a limitation is not artificial, and thus shouldn't be outlawed. But a digital camera that can only take panorama photos as long as they are stored on a stora
  • If I could think of it in 3 seconds, wireless companies must have thought of it long ago: Change the business model so consumers are only "leasing" their wireless devices, they remain property of the wireless carrier. Of course I and many others would tell the first company that did this to go fuck themselves, but if they all did it at once..
  • If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, - emphasis mine

    There are already plenty of laws that make such stuff illegal (contract law, copyright law, patent law, DMCA, ...) , this would just be pandering to the voters and not actually establish anything.

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