Policy Laundering: how the US Trade Rep is trading away America's right to unlock its devices

Some of America's worst copyright laws were passed through a profoundly undemocratic process called "policy laundering." This is what happens when an administration can't get Congress to pass a bad copyright law, so the US Trade Representative instead signs the US up to international treaties requiring America to pass the unpopular law. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act is one of the policy-laundered laws that has done enormous harm to the country.

Now the USTR is busy again, signing America up to treaties that undermine attempts by Congress to make phone unlocking and jailbreaking legal. America's official representative is going to other countries and telling them, "If you want to do business with America, you must ban jailbreaking and phone unlocking, and in return, we promise to keep those activities on the banned list, too."

In other words, America's trade reps are cramming a massively unpopular, harmful policy down the throats of its trading partners, while simultaneously locking America into the same policy, undermining Congress at the same time.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants you to take action on this. Maira Sutton and Parker Higgins have written a good article explaining policy laundering in depth.

U.S. wireless carriers claim that unlocking your phone to change carriers is illegal under Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prohibits the removal of digital rights management (DRM) technology. Section 1201 of the DMCA also set up a triennial rulemaking procedure, whereby the public can ask for exceptions to the rule that you cannot remove DRM from your devices. Phone unlocking was not approved in the last round of DMCA rulemaking, raising the specter of lawsuits against phone owners.

In light of public outrage over this, several members of Congress have introduced legislation to legalize phone unlocking. Already, opponents are saying that an effective narrow fix—a permanent phone-unlocking exemption from Section 1201—may violate the Korea-US trade agreement. Regardless of whether such a claim is true, such chatter can be enough to slow down the pace of change, and make any political reformers of the DMCA more cautious than they might otherwise be.

Big Content interest groups like the Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry—just to name a few—continue to have a strong influence on US trade negotiators. They are lobbying hard for our government to promote international policies to strengthen their control over how and when the public can interact and experience their creative products.

How the US Trade Rep Ratchets Up Worldwide Copyright Laws That Could Keep Your Devices Locked Forever

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