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.
Computers have fans that clog and slow long before the computer fails. A small tear in a jacket is not a problem, until the rip catches on a branch and suddenly you’re standing in a feathery nest of down insulation. A phone battery holds less charge before it holds no charge. To be a conscientious fixer is to recognize that repair is an intervention that must occur between functioning and complete failure.
The new unlocking law in the U.S. only covers cell phones. Other devices—like tablets, consoles, and even cars—remain locked down. What’s more, our world is becoming ever more computerized. Everyday items, like fridges and thermostats, are just as much computer as they are plastic and metal. Shouldn’t consumers be able to unlock them, too? That’s what we think. And so does the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit civil liberties organization.
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.
Today, President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act into law. This signing comes almost two years after the Internet rose up against the archaic process that first made unlocking a cellphone illegal. Since then, iFixit has been working relentlessly with other activists to shepherd a solution through the Senate. The President’s signature is a testament to the collective power of netizens, who stood up to powerful, entrenched corporate interests and won.
It’s been nearly two years since the American people demanded that Congress take steps to re-legalize cell phone unlocking. Today, Congress delivered. Earlier this month, the Senate unanimously approved the “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” (S.517). This morning, Senators sent the bill back to the House of Representatives, which gave the bill their unanimous seal of approval. The bill nows goes on to the White House.
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.
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.
We take freedom—both free as in speech and free as in beer—pretty seriously around these parts. So, we ring in Independence Day with a little something we like to call Liberation Week. Last year, as part of the festivities, we gave away 1,776 Liberation Kits. This year, we gave away 15,000 in just a couple of hours. Liberation Kits let people swap out iPhone security screws with standard Phillips screws, so they can open up their phones whenever they feel like it. Ain’t freedom sweet?
The Senate has made a strong positive step towards making sure that people have the right to unlock their cell phones.