Senate panel passes mobile phone 'unlocking' bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved on Thursday legislation that would enable consumers to "unlock" their mobile phone when their service contract is up and switch to another carrier.

Similar to a bill approved by the House in February, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act would allow consumers to transfer to another carrier without violating U.S. copyright law.

"Consumers should be able to use their existing cellphones when they move their service to a new wireless provider….With today's strong bipartisan vote in the Judiciary Committee, I hope the full Senate can soon take up this important legislation that supports consumer rights," says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, in a statement.

Leahy encouraged the Librarian of Congress, who oversees the U.S. Copyright Office, to consider whether other wireless devices, such as tablets, should be eligible for unlocking as well.

The bill is intended to invalidate a ruling by the Copyright Office that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits customers from unlocking their phones without the carrier's permission, explains the Los Angeles Times. The agency ruled that the carrier's software on the phone was proprietary and only licensed to the customers, not purchased, the report adds.

The Copyright Office had granted exemptions to the DMCA prohibition for a number of years, but the last exemption expired in 2012 and the office did not renew it. The bill would reinstate the exemption until the next review of the DMCA by the Copyright Office scheduled for 2016, the newspaper notes.

For more:
- see Leahy's statement
- read the Los Angeles Times report

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