Last week IPR helped Consumers Union file comments with the Copyright Office in support of an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that would enable consumers to unlock their mobile phones and tablets without risking criminal penalties.
Currently, most wireless carriers lock phones and tablets to their network so that these devices can only be used on one network. In the absence of an exemption, consumers who unlock their own devices may be subject to criminal penalties under the DMCA.
Without a legal right to unlock their devices, consumers must rely on their current carriers to unlock their phones and tablets for them—something carriers often make very inconvenient, even impossible. The proposed exemption would allow consumers unlock their own devices, making it easier to switch carriers and maintain the useful life of devices.
“Giving consumers the right to unlock their mobile devices would create innovation in the wireless carrier and device marketplaces,” according to the comments. “Imposing DMCA civil and criminal liability on consumers who seek to use their devices on different wireless networks leads to customer lock-in, arbitrary forced purchases of new devices, and the consignment of useful equipment to the scrapheap. Allowing unlocking rebalances the market back in favor of consumers, as they can more easily switch carriers and make choices based on value and service.”
The comments support an unlocking exemption for both mobile phones and tablets since consumers increasingly use them for essentially the same functions such as accessing the Internet or sending and receiving text messages and emails. An unlocking exemption covering both mobile phones and tablets would accurately reflect the growing functional equivalence of these devices in the minds of consumers.
Now that proponents have filed their comments in support of various DMCA exemptions, opponents of the proposed exemptions will have a chance to file comments in opposition by March 27th. Then, supporters of exemptions will have an opportunity to file reply comments by May 1st before the Copyright Office issues its final rule.
Georgetown Law Student Maggie Thomas helped draft this post.