For more than a decade, the visually-impaired have been locked in an excruciatingly slow and circuitous battle against US copyright laws. And it’s left the visually-impaired with few options but to hack their way around digital barriers—just for the simple pleasure of reading a book.
In August, President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, a law ensuring that US companies and consumers have the right to unlock their own cellphones. Now, just a few months later, the American people are petitioning the Librarian of Congress for that same right again. That’s politics, folks.
Strap in, folks—because we’re about to talk copyright law. I’m aware that as soon as I string the words “copyright” and “law” together, eyes start to glaze over. I get it. Copyright law doesn’t break the internet. But important things hardly ever do. Believe it or not, copyright law is shaping up to be the next big battleground in technology. And it’s fundamentally redefining ownership.
If my phone were a person, it would be the Bionic Woman. Its body has been broken and rebuilt more times than I can count. Its brain has been modified, tinkered with, and improved. It is the phone that will not die—at least not if I have anything to say about it.
Last week, we wrote in Wired about the Unlocking Bill—a bill that the Internet demanded from Congress 17 months ago. A bill that Sina Khanifar, iFixit, the EFF, Public Knowledge, Derek Khanna, and a small group of other activists all helped to shepherd through Washington. A bill that—after countless hours of debates, rewrites, and haggling—had a shot of becoming a law. Well, that bill has just passed by unanimous consent through Senate.
My grandfather was typical of a generation haunted by the shadow of the Great Depression. Out of necessity, people like my grandfather eked every bit of usefulness from what little they had. They drove their cars into the ground, hitched them back together with baling wire, and kept driving for another 100,000 miles. They taught their children how to patch their tires and patch their jeans. So it makes sense that it’s people like my grandfather who are teaching the world how to repair again.
A year and a half ago, a man in Washington made a bad decision that screwed over thousands of small businesses and hundreds of thousands more consumers. He made it illegal for Americans to “unlock” their cell phones. We cried foul, and 114,000 netizens joined us in demanding that unlocking be re-legalized. Normally, petition-signing is the flash in the pan of Internet activism. But this time was different. A bill that the Internet demanded 17 months ago is now on its way to a Senate vote.
The Senate has made a strong positive step towards making sure that people have the right to unlock their cell phones.
I watch as workers at BMW’s Recycling and Dismantling Centre fish around for an alternator under the hood of what must have been a mid-sized sedan—except this car doesn’t have a hood anymore. In fact, this car doesn’t have much of anything anymore. Its skeletal remains picked clean of most detachable components, this car is one of about 6,000 BMWs recycled at the centre every year—just a tiny fraction of what BMW actually manufactures every single year. So why isn’t BMW recycling more?
Repair is better than recycling. This Earth Day, add “repair” back into your sustainability checklist. To help get you started, we’ve compiled a few smartphone repairs you can do at home. (Most of these repairs require specialty electronics tools like plastic opening tools and a set of precision screwdrivers.) For our repair list, we’ve focused on Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S line, because they are the most popular phones in the US, Find many more phone repair guides on iFixit.
We support your bill, SB 994, which will give consumers the right to access and share the information from their cars. Who owns our vehicles? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred. SB 994 is a property rights issue. Who has the right to the data from our vehicles?
I admit it. I’m one of millions of Americans sporting a slick, wafer-thin cell phone. And, like so many others, I’m rarely (if ever) without it. But if we all knew a little more about our beloved smart phones—found out where they come from and how they’re made—we might discover a tarnish in the gleaming surface of our phones. Our smartphones actually aren’t all that smart: they’re harming workers, poisoning critical ecosystems, and challenging the premise that technology makes the world better.