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Taking Stock of Locks

Precursor Group's Cleland: Cellphone Unlocking Potentially a 'Trojan Horse' 3/17/2013 8:00 PM Eastern

WASHINGTON — Momentum is growing behind legislation to make it clear that unlocking a cellphone’s software so that it could be used with another carrier after an existing contract expires does not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Such a law seems like a consumer-friendly move for cellphone owners everywhere. But the cloud behind that silver lining — at least for distributors of digital content — would be if momentum picked up toward picking the lock on digital-content protection.

Precursor Group’s Scott Cleland warned last week that the cellphone-unlocking issue could be a “Trojan horse” attempt to gut copyright enforcement.

“The copyright-neuterers’ PR game is to trick people with a classic logical fallacy: If people agree that fully paid-for cellphones should be able to be unlocked by the owner, then people must agree with gutting all DMCA digital locks for all copyrighted works regardless of payment to, or permission from, the owners,” Cleland said.

When the issue of unlocking phones was raised at a Senate hearing last week, Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell also cautioned about protecting intellectual-property rights.

There may be reason to be concerned. Public Knowledge immediately linked the White House’s support for unlocking phones with its effort to rewrite the DMCA.

“We’re very glad that the administration recognizes the significant problems created when copyright laws tread upon the rights of consumers to use the products they have bought and owned, not just in cellphones, but also in a wide variety of other products and services,” the public-policy group said.

Public Knowledge has been pushing for language that would allow a digital lock on copyrighted work to be broken if it was for a non-infringing use.

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