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Tell Congress to legalize unlocking your phone


Sherwin from Public Knowledge writes, "The Copyright Office and the Library of Congress think that copyright law and the DMCA make it illegal to unlock your phone and take it to a new carrier. This is plainly ridiculous: a year ago, 114,000 Americans wrote the White House to tell them that, and the White House agreed. So did the FCC. And, eventually, so did the phone companies, who say they'll work to unlock most consumers' phones for them. But the law has stayed the same. It's still illegal for you, even if you've paid off your entire contract, to take it upon yourself to unlock your own phone."

Read the rest

Teach your rooted Android phones to lie to apps about whether it's rooted

There's a funny paradox in rooting your Android phone. Once you take total control over your phone, some apps refuse to run, because they're trying to do something that treats you as untrusted. Now there's a utility called Rootcloak that lets you tell your rooted phone to lie to apps about whether it is rooted. It's both long overdue and a neat demonstration of what it means to be root on a computer. Cory 10

Crowfunded prize for first open jailbreak of Ios 7


Elizabeth Stark writes, "We're pleased to announce the Device Freedom Prize: a crowdfunded reward for the first developer(s) who release an open source iOS 7 jailbreak. Providing users the ability to control their devices is crucial in an age where we're increasingly dependent on our mobile phones. An open source jailbreak provides users the capability to install what they want on their own devices, the ability to audit the code they're using to do so, and enables disabled users to more easily use their devices."

"We've assembled a judging panel of awesome folks that care a lot about these issues, including Boing Boing's own Cory Doctorow; Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit; Biella Coleman, Professor and Author of Coding Freedom, and Chris Maury, Accessibility Advocate. Contribute to the prize to help make an open source iOS jailbreak a reality."

Is iOS7 jailbroken yet? (Thanks, Elizabeth!)

New law will fix the DMCA, make jailbreaking, unlocking and interoperability legal - your help needed!

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) have introduced a landmark technology bill called The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 [PDF] that reforms the way our devices our regulated. It fixes a glaring hole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), changing the rules so that you are allowed to remove restrictions and locks from your devices provided that you don't violate other laws (as it stands, removing a lock, even to do something legal, like installing unapproved software on your iPhone or change carriers, is banned by the DMCA). The bill clarifies that security researchers don't violate the law by publishing information about flaws in the devices we trust and depend upon, and makes it legal to break "lock-out codes" that stop mechanics from fixing cars.

This is a watershed moment in 21st century technology law, and it's desperately needed. Every day that goes by sees us more dependent on devices that are increasingly designed to be as opaque as possible -- devices made by companies whose business-model treats customers as adversaries who undermine profits when they turn to third parties for software, repairs and services. It is only the presence of the terrible rules in the DMCA that makes this business attractive -- without these rules, technology locks would be quickly broken in the marketplace and competition -- as well as transparency -- would thrive. If you want to be sure that the devices that fill your rooms, your pockets -- and increasingly, your body -- are well-behaved and trustworthy, please support this bill.

FixTheDMCA.org and a broad coalition of groups are calling on Americans to write to their representatives in support of this bill. Until now, almost all technology activism has been reactive, fighting against bad rules. We finally have the chance to make some good rules, to establish a positive agenda for freedom, trustworthiness and transparency in the devices that form the nervous system of the 21st century.


"The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013" has 3 parts:

- It amends Section 1201 to make it clear that it is completely legal to "circumvent" if there is no copyright infringement.

- It legalizes tools and services that enable circumvention as long as they are intended for non-infringing uses.

- It changes Copyright Law to specify that unlocking cell phones is not copyright infringement.


You can read the full text of the bill here.

Finally, there's a bill in Congress that legalizes cell phone unlocking and fixes the DMCA.

Groups across America call on Congress to fix DMCA

Boing Boing is a co-signatory to an open letter (PDF) to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, calling on them to fix the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on jailbreaking and unlocking your devices. This laudable effort was spearheaded by Public Knowledge:

"It is important for Congress to remember that people are waiting on them to solve this problem once and for all. We've seen that Congress wants to ensure that consumers can unlock their phones, but consumers, entrepreneurs, academics, and public interest organizations all agree that we need lasting solutions to make sure that people can use their wireless devices without fearing copyright laws.

"A minor change to the law is all it would take to end this controversy for good. Beyond that, though, this situation shows there are deeper problems with the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA, and the time is ripe for hearings investigating the harms that come from this law."

Public Knowledge Asks Congress for a Permanent Fix to Cell Phone Unlocking

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

What the ban on unlocking phones means (worse than you think)

You will have heard that the US Copyright Office has lifted the temporary ruling under which you were allowed to unlock your phone. EFF explains in detail what this ruling means (it's not what you think -- and in some ways, it's worse):

First, the good news. The legal shield for jailbreaking and rooting your phone remains up - it'll protect us at least through 2015. The shield for unlocking your phone is down, but carriers probably aren't going to start suing customers en masse, RIAA-style. And the Copyright Office's decision, contrary to what some sensational headlines have said, doesn't necessarily make unlocking illegal.

Unlocking is in a legal grey area under the DMCA. The law was supposed to protect creative works, but it's often been misused by electronics makers to block competition and kill markets for used goods. The courts have pushed back, ruling that the DMCA doesn't protect digital locks that keep digital devices from talking to each other when creative work isn't involved. And no creative work is involved here: Wireless carriers aren't worried about "piracy" of the software on their phones, they're worried about people reselling subsidized phones at a profit. So if the matter ever reached a court, it might well decide that the DMCA does not forbid unlocking a phone.

Now, the bad news. While we don’t expect mass lawsuits anytime soon, the threat still looms. More likely, wireless carriers, or even federal prosecutors, will be emboldened to sue not individuals, but rather businesses that unlock and resell phones. If a court rules in favor of the carriers, penalties can be stiff - up to $2,500 per unlocked phone in a civil suit, and $500,000 or five years in prison in a criminal case where the unlocking is done for "commercial advantage." And this could happen even for phones that are no longer under contract. So we're really not free to do as we want with devices that we own.

All that said, if you were convicted, the maximum penalty under the law for unlocking your phone is now greater than the maximum penalty for turning it into an IED.

Is It Illegal To Unlock a Phone? The Situation is Better - and Worse - Than You Think

Report from America's jailbreaking hearings

Wired's David Kravets reports from the Copyright Office's triennial hearings on exceptions to the DMCA's rules against breaking DRM. Every three years, public interest groups supplicate themselves before the Copyright Office and beg for our right to jailbreak our devices and look inside our own property. Every three years, entertainment lawyers show up and demand that nothing of the sort come to pass, because their clients can only survive if it's illegal for you to decide what programs you get to run on the devices you buy. It's all rather revolting, legal sausage-making at its wurst.

Christian Genetski, general counsel of the Entertainment Software Association, told the Copyright Office, whose panelists included its top attorneys and Maria Pallante, the register of copyrights, that freeing Americans to bypass access controls on videogame consoles would decimate the gaming business.

“It will gut videogame consoles’ piracy protections,” he said. “We’re here today because our copyright interests are at stake.”

Allowing such jailbreaking, Hofmann countered, would allow the so-called homebrew community of game developers to play their games on the machines, while also allowing researchers to use the consoles like computers in the furtherance of science.

But the regulators were not clear whether the videogame hack was necessary. They suggested scientists could use computers for their research, and homebrew gamers can play those, too, on their computers.

Robert Kasunic, deputy general counsel of the Copyright Office, suggested that the benefits don’t outweigh the tradeoffs to piracy.

“How do you balance, for instance, the use of being able to put Pong on a homebrew system with the numbers we are aware of in terms of videogame piracy?” he asked, noting that millions of videogames are already being shared without authorization on The Pirate Bay.

So yeah, the Copyright Office generally believes that your rights to your actual, physical property are trumped by multinationals' metaphorical property rights in the things they sell you.

It’s Tinkerers v. Hollywood as Copyright Office Mulls New Jailbreaking Rules

Americans explain why jailbreaking should be legal

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has selected some of the best submissions from the Copyright Office's review of whether it should continue to be legal in the USA to "jailbreak" your devices in order to make them more suited to their needs. In this post, we hear from a deaf man who jailbreaks his phone so that he can use it as an assistive device at work; a military worker in Kuwait who jailbreaks his phone so he can quickly access the flashlight function to scare off dangerous wildlife near the base; and a nurse whose jailbroken device allows her to "track my performance, treatments used on patients, and the effects of those treatments, much faster with customizations that are not available on a device that is not jailbroken."

A note for Canadians: Bill C-11, Canada's proposed copyright law, has no similar exemption-setting process. That means that if MP James Moore succeeds in passing his legislation, it would be illegal to modify your property in the ways described here.

Kevin McLeod is a deaf man who uses his Android phone — a Samsung Epic 4G — to assist him with communication, record-keeping, and time management. Like many deaf people, he uses video relay service (VRS) software on his phone to “work on a level playing field with hearing peers and have productive and meaningful careers.” He had these comments for the Copyright Office:

I need a phone that can run VRS software through the day without having to recharge every other hour. The stock phone I received can't do that. I had to upgrade to a more powerful battery. Then I installed an alternative version of the Android operating system called CleanGB that removes most of the carrier-installed software. This freed up memory and battery resources I need to stay connected.

We need the ability to modify our devices because manufacturers and carriers can't possibly anticipate all the needs of their customers. We need flexibility to make the most of the terrific tools they build for us. I love the power and connectivity my phone gives me. I love that I can customize it to meet my unique needs.

Letters to the Copyright Office: Why I Jailbreak

(Image: Jailbreaking the iPhone - 06, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from yugen's photostream)

EFF's PlayStation 3 PSA: jailbreaking shouldn't be a crime

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is petitioning the US Copyright Office for a DMCA exemption legalizing "jailbreaking" -- modifying the devices you own so that they can run software of your choosing. The Copyright Office holds hearings every three years on DMCA exemptions and these need to be renewed at each hearing.

To highlight the need for a jailbreaking exemption, EFF has made this video showing how Sony shipped its PlayStation 3 with the promise that users could run GNU/Linux on it, a promise that was taken up by many purchasers, including the USAF, who used a room full of PS3s running Linux to make a clustered supercomputer. But Sony changed its mind and revoked the feature after the fact and began to actively pursue legal penalties against researchers who attempted to restore it.

However, in April 2010, Sony’s mandatory firmware update -- version 3.21 -- removed the ability to install "Other OS" -- meaning no more Linux on your PlayStation. To add legal muscle to its firmware, Sony sued several security researchers for publishing information about security holes that would allow users to run Linux on their machines again. Claiming that the research violated the DMCA, Sony asked the court to impound all "circumvention devices" -- which it defines to include not only the defendants' computers, but also all "instructions," i.e., their research and findings.

This means you can set your PlayStation on fire, but you can’t run Linux on hardware you own. To illustrate how ludicrous this is, we made a video illustrating what an owner can do with a PlayStation -- and what Sony contends they can’t.

PlayStation 3 "Other OS" Saga Shows: Jailbreaking Is Not a Crime