Intellectual Property Laws Run Amok
It's now illegal to "unlock" your cellular phone. Yale Law Fellow, columnist and policy expert Derek Khanna writes at BoingBoing:
On January 26, 2013, it became illegal to unlock new phones. Unlocking is a technique to alter the settings on your phone to let you use it with compatible cellular networks operated by other carriers. Doing so now could place you in legal liability: up to 5 years in jail and a $500,000 fine. This is a violation of our property rights. It makes you wonder: if you can't alter the settings on your phone, do you even own it?
This is just one clear example of intellectual property laws run amok: the underlying law was created to protect copyright, but it's being applied in a situation that no legislator expected when they voted for the bill in 1998. It's a clear example of crony capitalism, where a few companies asked for the law to be changed to their pecuniary benefit--despite the invasion of our property rights, its impact upon consumers, and its impact upon the overall market. The decision created even higher thresholds to entry for new market participants, which hinders competition and leads to less innovation.
When the Librarian of Congress (who had previously provided exceptions allowing this activity) spoke out on this issue on October 28, 2012, Congress refused to act. When that ruling went into effect, months later on January 26, 2013, Congress refused to act. On January 27, 2013, I published an article in the Atlantic, The Most ridiculous law of 2013 (So Far): It is Now a Crime to Unlock Your Smartphone, which brought more attention to this issue and was read by more than a million people. Despite this attention, Congress refused to act. At the time, I called their failure to address this issue a 'dereliction of duty.'
The SOPA generation sparked a White House petition to allow cellphone unlocking and Sina Khanifar and I advocated heavily on this issue over the past three weeks (Sina created the petition). During that time, Public Knowledge's question on this issue was submitted for President Obama in the Google Plus Hangout. It was one of the most popular questions submitted. Rep. Defazo, Vint Cerf, and the National College Republicans all tweeted in favor of the petition. And yesterday, on February 21, 2013, at around 7:37 AM EST, the 100,000 signature threshold was crossed on the petition, thereby meeting the threshold required for the White House to provide a formal response.
I propose that the post-SOPA protest coalition take this issue on forcefully, and encourage Congress to pass a bill that codifies permanent exemptions to the DMCA:Dear Congress,
Please remove these items from your DMCA contraband list (both for developing the technology, selling and using the technology):
• Technology for unlocking and jail-breaking (currently allowed for iPhone, not allowed for iPad).
• Adaptability technology for the blind to have e-books aloud (currently subject to triennial review by the Librarian of Congress - it's legal to use the technology but illegal to develop or sell).
• Technology to back-up our own DVD's and Blue-Ray discs for personal use (current law makes this illegal and injunctions have even been used to shut down websites discussing this technology).
Sign here by Feburary 23.