iFixit's Kyle Wiens has a must-read op-ed in Wired on the insane way that copyright is being used to take away your property rights in tools as diverse as tractors and cars and cellphones and phone switches. The manufacturers use a variety of copyright claims (especially anti-circumvention claims under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act/DMCA) to make it illegal to understand how your stuff works, to improve on it, or to repair it. Wiens makes the good point that it's nuts to use metaphorical property (copyright) to end real property rights in things that you buy and pay for.
Meanwhile, progress is being made to legalize cellphone unlocking. With grassroots groups leading the charge, the Obama administration announced its support for overturning the ban last week. Since then, members of Congress have authored no fewer than four bills to legalize unlocking.
This is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough. Let's make one thing clear: Fixing our cars, tractors, and cellphones should have nothing to do with copyright.
As long as Congress focuses on just unlocking cellphones, they're missing the larger point. Senators could pass a hundred unlocking bills; five years from now large companies will find some other copyright claim to limit consumer choice. To really solve the problem, Congress must enact meaningful copyright reform. The potential economic benefits are significant, as free information creates jobs. Service information is freely available online for many smartphones from iFixit (my organization) and other websites. Not coincidentally, thousands of cellphone repair businesses have sprung up in recent years, using the repair knowledge to keep broken cellphones out of landfills.
As long as we're limited in our ability to modify and repair things, copyright — for all objects — will discourage creativity. It will cost us money. It will cost us jobs. And it's already costing us our freedom.
Forget the Cellphone Fight — We Should Be Allowed to Unlock Everything We Own