The right to SIM unlock one’s mobile phone has been feverishly contested in recent years. But for the first time since a 2012 decision by the Library of Congress that ruled cell phone unlocking a violation of the DMCA, progress has now been made to give consumers greater choice in network patronage.
Yesterday, a bill was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that allows for consumer cell phone unlocking for use on alternate networks. The bill passed by a 295-114 vote, and it essentially repeals a the Library of Congress’s 2012 ruling to not renew a DMCA exemption that was granted in 2006 and 2010. The 2012 ruling eventually lead to a massively publicized petition that gathered 114,322 signatures before gaining presidential support. Now, the fruits of the petition have come in the form of bill H.R. 1123, which can be summarized as follows:
H.R. 1123 repeals a Library of Congress (LOC) rulemaking determination made on October 28, 2012 (upon the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights) regarding the circumvention of technological measure controlling access to copyrighted software on wireless telephone handsets (cell phones) for the purpose of connecting to different wireless telecommunications networks. This practice is commonly known as “unlocking.” This legislation replaces this with a rulemaking determination that went into effect on July 27, 2010. This would reinstate the exemption that allowed consumers to be able to legally unlock their cell phones so that they can use it on other cellular networks.
In addition, this legislation allows any individual who wishes to unlock their cell phone for personal use to seek help from others without violating anti-circumvention provisions and clarifies that this bill does not permit the unlocking of cell phones for the purpose of bulk resale. Finally, H.R. 1123 directs the Librarian to study the issue of unlocking other cellular devices (e.g. tablets) and enact a rulemaking for these devices.
In other words, the passing of H.R. 1123 overrules the Library of Congress’s decision to not renew the previous DMCA exemption for cell phone unlocking by allowing individuals to unlock their phones without fear of violating anti-circumvention provisions.
While the passing of H.R. 1123 is in some ways beneficial to consumers, it is far from perfect. Unfortunately, the legislation does not extend to unlocking for the purpose bulk device resale. Thus, while permitting individual users to unlock without fear of legal repercussions, it still limits consumer freedom indirectly by hindering device resale and ultimately limiting an otherwise valid means of obtaining devices at a discount.
This is a step in the right direction, but it is just a small one. The lack of support for unlocking for bulk resale is troubling, but hopefully these issues will be ironed out in time.