The New DMCA Smartphone and Tablet Exemptions are Awful

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is essentially the implementation of two treaties from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) into United States Law. In a nutshell, it criminalizes “production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures … that control access to copyrighted works”. So far it sounds pretty innocent, right?

The DMCA also criminalizes not only circumventing “access control” but any “attempt” to circumvent those controls — even if there isn’t any actual infringement of copyright. To make matters worse, the DMCA increases the penalties for “copyright infringement” if “the Internet” is somehow involved.

I know what you’re thinking: this is terrible! We need to organize and those of us in the U.S.A. need to contact our elected officials and tell them to vote against this poorly crafted law! Right? Unfortunately the US Senate passed it unanimously and then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law in October of 1998.

What does any of this have to do with smartphones and tablets?!

In July 2010, some exemptions were made to the “circumvention” part of the law. The EFF fought hard and subsequently the Librarian of Congress exempted smartphones — for the purpose of being able to run other (legally obtained) software on them, and for purposes of interoperability with other carriers. Apparently since the law passed in 1998 until the temporary exemptions were granted in 2010, everyone who had rooted, unlocked, or jailbroken their smartphone was a criminal. Not only that, if you’d even “attempted” to root or unlock, you were also a criminal.

Why are we bringing this all up now?

Effective October 28th, 2012 through late 2015 there will be five types of “circumvention” that will be allowed under the DMCA — that’s one less than the old set allowed.

Let’s dive into the insanity, shall we? Here are a few of the highlights:

  1. You can rip (that’s geek-talk for “copy”) DVDs so you can use an excerpt in a “documentary” — but not so you can take a copy with you to play on your Android or iPad.
  2. You’re be allowed to root, unlock, or jailbreak your smartphone — but not your tablet…
  3. … but you’ll only be able to unlock phones that you purchase before January 2013 — and not phones that you purchase in February and beyond.
  4. After January 2013 if you want to unlock a phone “so you can take it to another carrier” you’ll have to buy it from the carrier — no more purchases from classifieds or friends, or unlocking through anything other than carrier-sanctioned methods.

Our right to ownership is under attack

Here’s where I get up on my soap box.

When I buy a phone or a tablet, it’s mine. It’s doesn’t belong to my carrier, it no longer belongs to the the manufacturer. It’s mine. I can do whatever I want with it.

I can turn an iPad into a shovel or an Android into a coaster if I want. Similarly, if I have the skills and know-how, I should be able to make an Android or iPad run Linux — or even an OS that I’ve written all by myself. I should then be able to sell my iShovel, AndroCoster, or my LeviOS powered devices to whoever wants to buy them from me.

I should be able to take any device that I buy and use it on any network that I’m paying to access.

I should be able to buy a movie, and watch it whenever and wherever I want.

Copyright should be about protecting the person who made the original product from having their creations copied and redistributed for profit. If I copy a CD, burn a million copies, and sell them for $1 each, I’ve just damaged the copyright-holder. If I buy a CD, rip a copy, put the copy on my smartphone or tablet, and put the original CD on a shelf where I may never listen that copy again, as long as I don’t give a copy of the song to someone else I haven’t damaged anyone.

This is ridiculous, guys and gals. We’re getting to the point where “ownership” is nothing more than a “license to use”, and that license can describe how and where we use what we’ve purchased. This is like saying you cannot use the milk you bought to bake bread and make a sandwich from it — instead you have to buy your sandwich from someone licensed to sell you one.

Here’s where we go viral!

You’re here on Pocketnow, which means you know something about technology. You’re probably the person that your friends and family turn to for advice about phones, tablets, and carriers. You — all of you — are the ones who can sway this.

Today, regardless of political party, regardless of OS platform or device preference, regardless of nation or geography, today we stand together! Today we stand united in fairness and equality — for all of us!

We cannot stand idly by and do nothing. We must stand together against it!

What can you do? Share the word. Repost this article on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Reddit, Slashdot, by email, write about it on your own blog. Share it everywhere. Bring everyone here so they can all know what liberties have been taken away from us.

Together we can win! Together we must win.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.