Yesterday, TechNews Daily ran an article insisting “you don’t need Congress to unlock your phone.” Their reasoning: “You can unlock your phone today, illegally, and feel confident you won’t end up in jail.” TechNews is right. In all likelihood, nothing will happen. But the DMCA has hindered academic researchers, made it difficult to repair hardware, and even hampered voice-to-text programs that help the blind read ebooks. Support copyright reform at FixtheDMCA.org.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld your right to resell. The case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, related to Supap Kirtsaeng, who bought cheap, lawfully made textbooks in Thailand, mailed them to the United States, and sold them to U.S. students via eBay. Publishing company John Wiley & Sons claimed copyright infringement. SCOTUS disagreed. And that’s good, because while the case concerned textbooks, it could have had implications on the legality of re-selling any product made overseas.
Who owns our stuff? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything, the answer has changed. We really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. This is a property rights issue, and current copyright law gets it backwards, turning regular people—like students, researchers, and small business owners—into criminals.
In October, the Library of Congress canceled an exemption that protected unlocking cell phones without carrier permission. The decision, which effectively banned legal unlocking, sparked public contention: More than 114,000 people signed a petition demanding that the ban be lifted. Yesterday, the White House added its name to the ban’s list of opponents, declaring “It’s time to legalize cell phone unlocking.” So, what’s next for unlocking?