updated 04:02 pm EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Debate not over, Librarian of Congress needs to re-evaluate in 2015
President Barack Obama has signed the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," making cellphone unlocking by individuals or businesses legal again, at least temporarily. The bill reauthorizes an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allowed unlocking. The matter will come up for debate before the Library of Congress in 2015, so the bill signature today isn't a permanent fix.
The Republican-controlled House originally approved a version of the bill legalizing cellphone unlocking, but with a "poison pill" attached, preventing companies from bulk-unlocking devices for resale. This caused the groups who originally sponsored the bill in the first place to object to it. The Senate version took out the bulk-unlocking restriction, and it was this version that has now passed both houses of Congress.
"This is something that Americans have been asking for, and I am pleased that we were able to work together to ensure the swift passage of legislation restoring the exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their cell phones," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said regarding the passage of the bill. Goodlatte opposed bulk unlocking initially, and was the author of the "poison pill" clause.
The bill also directs the Librarian of Congress, the authority for rulemaking for such matters, to "consider whether other wireless devices, like tablets, should [also] be eligible for unlocking." The bill amends part of the DMCA to so that it would not be a violation "to circumvent a technological measure in connection with a work protected under this title if the purpose of such circumvention is to engage in a use that is not an infringement of copyright."