In compliance with a 2014 law that permits wireless subscribers to unlock their cell phones for use on competing carrier networks, the Library of Congress (LOC) confirmed Tuesday that it has exempted wireless smart phones from 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibitions against the circumvention of technological copyright protection measures. The LOC has also extended that exemption to other mobile devices such as tablet PCs, mobile hotspots, smart watches and fitness trackers.
The exemptions will remain in effect for three years, after which the LOC will conduct a further rulemaking proceeding to renew the exemptions for an additional three-year period. After approving DMCA exemptions for cell phone unlocking in three previous triennial rulemaking proceedings, the LOC removed the exemptions in 2012. That decision spurred Congress last year to adopt legislation that reinstated the prior DMCA exemption and also created an expedited process for the LOC to determine whether that exemption should also be applied to tablet PCs and other wireless devices.
Acting on the recommendation of the U.S. Copyright Office, the LOC decided to apply the unlocking provision not only to mobile phones but also to tablet PCs, portable wireless broadband modems, mobile hotspots and wearable wireless devices. The LOC also said it would retain the existing “jail-breaking” exemption for wireless smart phones (which allows users to access the operating system of a device to install or remove software) and extend that exemption to other “portable all-purpose computing devices.” Jail-breaking prohibitions will remain in effect, however, for dedicated e- readers, portable gaming devices and video game consoles, based on “substantial evidence that console jail-breaking is closely tied to video game piracy.”
Declaring that the LOC “did the right thing,” Competitive Carriers Association President Steve Berry remarked that “having the ability to take the device of your choice to the carrier that best meets your needs and desires is hugely important for consumers.” As a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that the jail-breaking exemption “clears up a lot of legal uncertainty” for alternative software developers, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asserted that the LOC ruling “builds on the work we did last Congress and will enable consumers to connect not only their smart phones, but also their tablets and devices, to the network of their choice.”