Cellphone Unlocking Bill Heads to Obama for Signature

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Americans will again have the freedom to unlock their cellphones and switch wireless carriers without violating copyright law.

House lawmakers passed the cellphone unlocking legislation Friday. The Senate had already approved the bill. It is now a presidential signature away from becoming law.

President Obama said the legislation restores a basic consumer freedom.

“The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cellphone carrier that meets their needs and their budget,” Obama said in a statement.

According to Reuters, U.S. wireless carriers often lock cellphones to their networks in an attempt to encourage consumers to stay with their network and renew their mobile contracts.

Unlocking your cellphone has bounced back and forth between being legal and illegal, technology site Ars Technica said.

Unlocking one’s cellphone became illegal when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed in 1998 as that law banned the “circumvention” of any copy protection mechanisms. Unlocking became legal from 2006 until 2012 when the U.S. Librarian of Congress granted an exemption, but it went back to being illegal in 2013.

Although earlier versions of the bill contained onerous language excluding bulk unlocking, that language was dropped from the final bill. So consumers, as well as phone resellers and recyclers, will soon be able to unlock phones without worrying about copyright claims, according to Ars Technica.

In December 2013, a number of wireless carriers – including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile – agreed to enact policies that would allow consumers to unlock their phones after their contract ended, Reuters said.

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