Years ago, someone stole my very first cellphone (a flip model with—get this—an antenna) out of my bag on the New York City subway. I despaired. As a grad student, I was chronically broke and couldn’t afford a replacement. Luckily, a generous friend gave me an old phone unearthed from his desk drawer. I got a new SIM card, switched it into my friend’s handset, and added my contacts. (Read more…) Problem solved.
It wouldn’t be so simple these days. In the mid-’90s, wireless companies began to place digital locks on their phones so that consumers couldn’t transfer them to a new carrier. It’s relatively easy to unlock a phone—you can download the necessary code for a few bucks. But as of January 26, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you can no longer do this legally. The 1998 law, aimed mostly at curbing digital piracy, also outlawed cellphone unlocking, but the US Copyright Office had always granted an exemption since unlocking phones really has little to do with copyright. The wireless industry didn’t like that—it argued that because carriers often subsidize the cost of phones, it’s not fair to let customers take their device to a competitor.
The Copyright Office has apparently embraced that argument: This year, for the first time, it denied the usual requests by organizations and individuals to extend the exemption. Consumer advocates are now fuming over what Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, calls “a huge and expensive inconvenience.”
But there’s another reason the unlocking ban is a bad idea: It stifles the secondary phone market—which, of course, is just what phone companies want. “If a person purchases a used handset, they will not be purchasing a subsidized handset from the carrier and signing a two-year contract,” explains James Mosieur, director of a reuse charity called the 911 Cell Phone Bank.
[VIA MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones]