The back-and-forth, two year long debate on how to upend the Librarian of Congress’ 2012 decision to ban cell phone unlocking was settled in favor of bulk unlocking on July 25. However, the debate may not be over.
Unlocking could be deemed illegal again in 2015.
The final version of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act allows consumers to unlock their phones as well as bulk unlocking for refurbishment and resale — a key provision that was left out of the Senate version of the bill passed July 15.
According to ISRI, prior to the passing of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, the U.S. was the only country that prohibits recyclers from unlocking electronic devices and returning them to market for reuse.
Unlocked phones are extremely valuable, which is why carriers want to protect their investments in the subsidies. However, cell phone refurbishers also want the chance to extend the life of the devices.
The lift of the unlocking ban is a significant step in the right direction for the reuse and refurbishment of cell phones as long as the bulk provision is included. Refurbished cell phones appeal to customers because they are typically remarketed as unlocked and are sold at a discounted price compared to being purchased unlocked from a carrier.
ISRI wrote in an appeal “without a 1201 exemption, owners of tablets, including consumers, family members, and legitimate resellers and recyclers, are substantially impaired in their ability to make a variety of noninfringing uses.”
While the U.S. Congress passed legislation making unlockings legal, the Librarian of Congress has the opportunity in 2015 to either reaffirm the prior ruling or reverse course based on an interpretation of Section 1201 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. That 2015 ruling will likely last until 2018.
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