Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Thomas Massie, Anna Eshoo & Jared Polis Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Enable Cell Phone & Wireless Device Unlocking

May 9, 2013
Press Release

Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) announced they have introduced H.R. 1892, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013. The bipartisan bill would permanently guarantee consumers can unlock their cell phones, tablets, and other mobile communications devices in order to switch carriers. The bill gives consumers new avenues to unlock their devices and media under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in ways that do not infringe on copyright.

"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."

"Everyone should be free to use their personal property as they see fit and choose their preferred technologies without penalty," said Rep. Massie. "This bill rolls back excessive and out-dated prohibitions on otherwise lawful innovations that promote marketplace competition. I look forward to advancing this bipartisan effort with Reps. Lofgren, Polis, and Eshoo."

"Consumers who are not under contract should be able to unlock their cell phones or tablets," Rep. Polis said. "We should not have laws on the books that prohibit consumer choice and stifle competition in the marketplace. I am pleased to introduce this bill with Representatives Lofgren, Massie, and Eshoo which will permanently restore consumers' freedom to switch wireless carriers."

Currently, Section 1201 of the DMCA forbids sidestepping technical measures that prevent modifying copyrighted works — such as jailbreaking a tablet to run 3rd-party apps, going around digital rights management for archiving or disability access purposes, or unlocking a cell phone — regardless of whether there is any actual copyright infringement. The Unlocking Technology Act 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. In addition, the bill would permit the use and sale of tools — like software apps — that enable unlocking for uses that do not infringe on copyright. The President would also be required to ensure that international trade agreements reflected the changes in the Act.

Under the DMCA, the Copyright Office can add restrictions or remove exemptions under Section 1201 every three years. The Copyright Office created an exemption for cell phone unlocking in 2010, and then took it away again in 2013, making cell phone unlocking illegal once more. Most proposals currently before Congress merely extend the prior cell phone unlocking exemption for another three years, meaning the Copyright Office will have to determine whether to renew the exemption in another three years. The Unlocking Technology Act would make the exemption for cell phones permanent.

Click here for a section-by-section summary of H.R. 1892, the Unlocking Technology Act.

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