Goodlatte and Conyers Introduce Fourth Bill So Far to Allow Cellphone Unlocking

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar  


Congress now has before it four bills that would give consumers the right to unlock their mobile telephone handsets without authorization in order to change carriers while keeping their phones. On March 14, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet, introduced a bill that would override the Copyright Office's recent decision to end an exemption for unlocking from federal anticircumvention law.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (H.R. 1123) is identical to the bill of the same name (S. 517) introduced a few days earlier in the Senate by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). Goodlatte was joined by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking minority member of the full Judiciary Committee.

S. 517 and H.R. 1123 would repeal the Copyright Office's October ruling that eliminated an exemption from Section 1201(a) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, 17 U.S.C. §1201(a), which prohibits the circumvention of technological protection measures used by copyright owners to prevent copying or unauthorized access.

The Copyright Office determined that because, among other things, cellphone makers were now offering a range of unlocked phones on the market, that consumers no longer needed an exemption to unlock locked phones.

The Leahy-Goodlatte bill is one of several pieces of legislation introduced in the backlash against the Copyright Office's decision. The Wireless Device Independence Act (S. 467) was introduced by Sen. Ronald L. Wyden (D-Ore.). This happened on the heels of a statement by the Obama administration supporting a right to unlock.

The Wireless Consumer Choice Act (S. 481), introduced on March 7 by Sen. Amy J. Klobuchar (D-Minn.), differs from the other bills in that it gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to require that cellphone carriers allow their customers to unlock phones. The Klobuchar bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


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