updated 11:30 am EST, Wed February 26, 2014
Last minute revision adds prohibition to bulk unlocking
The US House of Representatives has approved a bill legalizing cellphone unlocking, against the will of the groups who originally sponsored the bill in the first place. The bill is now headed for the Senate, with what opposition has called a "poison pill" attached, preventing companies from bulk-unlocking devices for resale. If approved, the proposed bill extends an exemption currently in place for two years that legally allows cellphone unlocking, instead of the originally-proposed permanent solution.
The "bulk unlocking" ban is aimed to prevent businesses from buying subsidized phones, unlocking them, and reselling them in a grey market. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the amendment to stop this process, which could, in theory, disrupt existing business models.
Original proponents Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are now supporting a different bill -- Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) proposal, which would permanently codify consumer's ability to unlock phones that are no longer subsidized, as well as modify the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that originally made defeating any kind of anti-copying technology illegal, regardless of the reason for doing so. The DMCA modification would customize language spelling out that the ban on breaking copyright protection only applies when it has a tangible link to copyright infringement.
The EFF claims that the original bill as proposed proves that Congress uses "copyright as an excuse to inhibit certain business models, even if the business isn't actually infringing anyone's copyright." Additionally, the EFF believes that "bulk unlocking not only benefits consumers, it's good for the environment -- unlocking allows re-use, and that means less electronic waste."