Digital rights advocates banded together earlier in the year to protest a Library of Congress decision that effectively made it illegal for cell phone owners to unlock and modify their device software to switch wireless carriers. After several bills were introduced and ultimately derided as half measures, a more comprehensive attempt at reform is currently being spearheaded by four representatives focused on core Digital Millennium Copyright Act issues.
According to Wired, the current Library of Congress provision has had stifling side effects far beyond the mobile marketplace. Without the ability to modify the software installed on products they own, farmers have been unable to maintain field equipment, scientists have struggled to construct affordable computer test models and independent mechanics have been incapable of making common repairs to some of the latest cars.
As a result, legislators are seeking a way to constrict the unintended consequences of copyright laws while upholding strong protections for rights owners.
"Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased," California representative and bill co-sponsor Zoe Lofgren explained. "If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, there's little reason to hold back the benefits of unlocking so people can continue using their devices."
The proposed legislation would also protect the unlocking tool developers, who could currently face up to five years in jail and $500,000 in fines, according to Wired. With such deterrents stripped away, tech entrepreneurs may be more motivated to apply their coding skills toward innovative efforts that discourage electronic waste and promote consumer choice.