Yesterday was a big win for the jailbreaking community in the war to legalize unlocking of devices. Both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Obama Administration announced that they would urge Congress to overturn a ruling last year by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress that made it illegal for consumers to unlock their cell phones.
In a petition that was created on January 24, more than 114,000 signatures prompted the White House to make a statement on unlocking phones. R. David Edelman, a senior White House adviser for Internet innovation and policy wrote in a White House blog post, “If you have paid for a mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network,”
This is great news for the tech community, who has been fairly vocal about the October 2012 lapse in renewal of the cell phone exemption in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The White House even included tablets in its statement of support.
“The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties,” reads the White House’s statement. “In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones.”
The exemption in the DMCA now means that unlocking your cell phone and jailbreaking your tablets is illegal. Forbes points out that this leaves some 4.6 million iPad jailbreakers in limbo. Cydia administrator Jay Freeman says the jailbroken Apple app store website sees more hits than that in a month. Freeman argues that consumers need protection from the DMCA anti-tampering provisions, which essentially criminalize jailbreaking and unlocking tablets and phones.
“It’s important to realize that the [White House's statement] is very narrow,” says Freeman. “We definitely need a different campaign, one that focuses on the root problem: that the DMCA’s 1201 anti-tampering clause is confusing, limiting and generally really annoying.”
This is a new era for cell phones, tablets and wireless carriers. It is the wild west out there and at some point, rules are going to have to be clarified and set in stone so that companies and consumers know exactly where they stand. The recent petition and announcement from the FCC and White House administration are just the beginning of what is sure to be a long and drawn out legal battle for consumer rights versus company protections.