Watchdog Groups and Concerned Citizens Urge Lawmakers to Add an Exception to the DMCA for Unlocking Mobile Devices

A letter signed by 33 organizations and nine individuals asks the top ranking lawmakers in the House of Representatives (Reps. Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers) and the United States Senate (Sens. Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley) to make an exception for unlocking electronic devices to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Recently a petition signed by over 110,000 Americans asked President Barack Obama's administration to make the same exception.

The thrust of the letter is that copyright should not be used as a way to control and constrain consumers into use a particular service provider. They also ask that more permanent proposals from Senators Wyden and Klobuchar be enacted into law and that hearings should be convened to discuss the issue with stakeholders and those in the government in charge of the DMCA. You can read the entire letter below.

It was signed by such organizations as the co-founder of Reddit, several law professors, the Entertainment Consumers Association, Public Knowledge, the Electronic Entertainment Association, Fight for Freed and many other advocacy groups.

Full letter below:

March 28, 2013

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
U.S. Senate
Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

CC: The Honorable Charles Grassley, Ranking Member
The Honorable John Conyers, Ranking Member

Dear Chairmen Leahy and Chairman Goodlatte:
In her testimony last week before the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, Register Pallante noted the need to review the efficacy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Over the first few months of the 113th Congress, we have seen a growing frustration among American consumers with the way that the DMCA constrains them from using their electronic devices in lawful, non-infringing ways. Recently, over 110,000 individuals petitioned the White House asking for an exemption to the DMCA to unlock mobile devices so that consumers can move the phones they own to new wireless networks. The White House agreed with this petition and several members of Congress— including you—have taken action in the wake of the White House’s response to the petition. We, the undersigned groups and individuals, represent a wide range of interests, and stand united in two ideas. First, we believe that Congress should act quickly to ensure that this exemption to the DMCA can be codified permanently. Second, we believe that consumer concern about cell phone unlocking highlights a need to examine the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions more fully in the future.

It is clear that copyright law should not stand in the way of consumers using their own phones with the wireless network of their choice. Codifying the legality of wireless device unlocking will provide the certainty that this law will not stand in the way of consumer rights and competitive markets, now or in the future. Codifying an unlocking exemption brings the law in line with common sense and will prevent yet another return to a flawed process that creates a perpetual re-lobbying of many settled issues every three years. While some Congressional proposals would return this decision to the Library of Congress, more permanent proposals from Senators Wyden and Klobuchar ensure that solutions to this problem will be lasting. We urge the Congress to remove wireless unlocking from this bureaucratic treadmill and enact language similar to the proposals from these legislators. These proposals enact sound public policy that can be made consistent with our existing international agreements. To the extent that a perceived conflict may exist between them and any free trade agreements, Congress can instruct the U.S. Trade Representative to renegotiate any such ill-advised provisions and ensure that our trade agreements reflect our domestic law and policy. As Register Pallante said last week, it is up to Congress to lead in these issues.

In the longer term, we believe that the widespread concern about cell phone unlocking illustrates how these parts of the DMCA can interfere with consumer rights and competition policy. This interference is not limited to the realm of mobile communications devices. Congress must take action to ensure that laws and policies are keeping up with the pace of technological change. Not addressing these questions will stunt advances in access to digital media for people with disabilities and may prevent new innovations and competitive uses for emerging devices, as uncertainties around the law and the three-year cycle creates a chilling effect for individuals, businesses, innovators and investors who may be covered by the law.

To that end, we request that as the leadership of the two committees of jurisdiction, you convene hearings this year to investigate these possible reforms to the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA in order to begin a thorough discussion of these problems.

Organizations and Companies
Amicus (
Apportable, Inc.
BigCalc (Quilli, Inc.)
CoderWall /Appdillo Inc.
CryptoSeal, Inc.
Data Foundry
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Entertainment Consumers Association
Fight For The Future
Fix the DMCA
Golden Frog
The Internet Archive
MakeGamesWithUs Inc. Meldium
Microryza Inc.
midnox inc.
NY Tech Meetup
Public Knowledge
SaurikIT, LLC
Semantics3, Inc.
Software Freedom Law Center
Teespring LLC
viaCycle, Inc.
Y Combinator
Zaranga, Inc.

Individuals (Affiliation provided for identification only)
Jesse Cooke, Chief Technology Officer, Watsi
Peter Decherney, Associate Professor of Cinema Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties, Stanford Center for Internet and Society
Sina Khanifar, Author, White House Petition on Phone Unlocking
Derek Khanna, Visiting Fellow, Yale Information Society Project
Alexis Ohanian, Founder, Breadpig, Co-founder, reddit
Laura Quilter, Copyright and Information Policy Librarian, UMass Amherst
Elizabeth Stark, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Stanford StartX
Rebecca Tushnet, Professor of Law, Georgetown University

[Full disclosure: GamePolitics is an ECA publication.]

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