TracPhone challenges right to 'unlock' cell phones

Scarcely a week after U.S. copyright officials cleared the way for cell phone users to pick the devices' firmware "locks" in order to swap mobile carriers, a leading prepaid cell phone provider lodges a legal challenge.

Scarcely a week after U.S. copyright officials cleared the way for cell phone users to pick the devices' firmware "locks" in order to swap mobile carriers, a leading prepaid cell phone provider has lodged a legal challenge.

Miami-based TracFone Wireless filed a complaint on Tuesday with a federal court in Florida asking that the ruling be thrown out, according to the published reports.

Its argument? By allowing cell phone customers to disable the software that tethers it to a particular carrier, the U.S. Copyright Office is making it easier for people to sell phones overseas at a profit--and thus hurt TracFone's "practice of offering low-cost wireless telephone service to a large number of customers who may not otherwise be able to afford it." (The company's business model reportedly rides on selling Nokia handsets at below-cost and recovering the difference through the fees charged for phone minutes.)

The cell phone unlocking exemption was among six new exceptions added recently to a controversial 1998 digital copyright law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Section 1201 of that statute broadly restricts circumventing "a technological measure that effectively controls access" to a copyrighted work.

TracFone charged in its complaint that the Copyright Office had not given the company adequate time to comment on the proposal and was acting in a manner "inconstistent with copyright law."

It also noted it has successfully won complaints hinging on DMCA violations in the past. Critics, meanwhile, have contended that such suits are an example of a use that the law was not supposed to cover.

 

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