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Petition To Legalize Unlocking Cellphones Meets White House's 100K Requirement

Posted: February 21, 2013

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Frustration over a change in federal copyright policy making it illegal to unlock a new cellphone has resulted in more than 100,000 signatures on a petition at the White House's website, meaning the executive branch must now respond to the call to overturn the policy.

Frustration over a change in federal copyright policy that makes it illegal to unlock new cellphones has resulted in more than 100,000 signatures on a petition at the White House's website, meaning the executive branch must now respond to calls to rescind the ruling or "champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal."

The change in policy, which is regulated by the Library of Congress's U.S. Copyright Office, means that "if you buy a phone from AT&T and get a two-year contract, even when that contract is up, you will still have to ask permission from AT&T to change your phone to a new carrier," Laura Sydell reported Wednesday.

The shift comes after the Librarian of Congress, James Hadley Billington, followed his agency's recommendation that he not renew a Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their cellphones, which are often bought from a wireless carrier.

As Laura reported, the revised policy poses problems for Americans who want to use their phones on wireless networks in other countries rather than relying on their U.S. carrier's service plan, which often levies steep fees for international usage.

It also threatens the practice of switching carries but keeping the same phone — or getting a new phone from a carrier and unlocking it so it can be resold.

In her recommendation published in October, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante said, "The marketplace has evolved such that consumers now have access to a variety of unlocked phones," giving them a "wide range of alternatives."

Exemptions to the DMCA must be renewed every three years. The Library of Congress reached its decision in October, but the change was put off for 90 days to allow consumers and businesses to adjust — and in some cases, to unlock their phones before it became illegal. The new rules apply to any phones purchased after Jan. 26.

As The Hill notes, "The Library of Congress is an independent legislative branch agency, and it is unclear what power President Obama has to reverse its decision, even if he agrees with the petition."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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