While most attention in Washington was focused on the U.S. Supreme Court listening to arguments over California’s Proposition 8 this week, a coalition of technology thinkers, writers and educators joined in signing a letter to the chairs of the Senate and House judiciary committees, demanding substantive reforms to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998. That legislation is currently interpreted to ban the unlocking of smartphones and the jailbreaking of tablets.
More than 30 technology companies, public policy organizations, and websites –– including Reddit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Y Combinator –– joined together Thursday morning to sign the letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) expressing their concern over the interpretation of the DMCA reached by the Library of Congress in October 2012 that made millions of mobile users criminals overnight.
“We, the undersigned groups and individuals,represent a wide range of interests, and stand united in two ideas,” the letter says. “First, we believe that Congress should act quickly to ensure that this exemption to the DMCA can be codified permanently. Second, we believe that consumer concern about cell phone unlocking highlights a need to examine the DMCA's anticircumvention provisions more fully in the future."
“It is clear that copyright law should not stand in the way of consumers using their own phones with the wireless network of their choice. Codifying the legality of wireless device unlocking will provide the certainty that this law will not stand in the way of consumer rights and competitive markets, now or in the future. Codifying an unlocking exemption brings the law in line with common sense and will prevent yet another return to a flawed process that creates a perpetual re-lobbying of many settled issues every three years.”
The letter speaks in cautious support of three separate proposals currently before Congress that would remove limitations on phone unlocking, or at least provide customers with the means to those rights from their cellphone service providers.
But many feel that the proposals don’t go far enough, and that more direct action needs to be taken, which is why “codifying an unlocking exemption” is mentioned.
Others feel that this current battle is just one piece of a larger conflict that needs to be resolved before consumers are penalized for even more simple uses of products they purchase.
“In the longer term, we believe that the widespread concern about cell phone unlocking illustrates how these parts of the DMCA can interfere with consumer rights and competition policy,” the letter says. “This interference is not limited to the realm of mobile communications devices. Congress must take action to ensure that laws and policies are keeping up with the pace of technological change. Not addressing these questions will stunt advances in access to digital media for people with disabilities and may prevent new innovations and competitive uses for emerging devices, as uncertainties around the law and the three-year cycle creates a chilling effect for individuals, businesses, innovators and investors who may be covered by the law."
“To that end, we request that as the leadership of the two committees of jurisdiction, you convene hearings this year to investigate these possible reforms to the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA in order to begin a thorough discussion of these problems.”