Update to First Sale Doctrine

Well I wasn't expecting this.

On the 'We The People' site, which allows Americans to write and sign petitions for the White House to consider, the Obama administration has issued a formal response about the recently enacted change in the DMCA exceptions about phone unlocking.

Remember, this is the same site that got an official response from the White House about building a Death Star. It's not exactly the halls of power.

However, it's interesting because the White House, more specifically Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation & Privacy R. David Edelman, detail their opinion that the exemption to the DMCA for unlocking one's cell phone for use on another provider should be maintained.

As a quick recap: The DMCA says you can't circumvent copyrighted software, which includes the measures that lock a cell phone to a given mobile provider. An existing exemption, granted by the Library of Congress, made it legal to do so once your contract ended, even without permission from your provider. Now, that's no longer the case. Even after a contract is up, the provider could forbid you from unlocking. And doing so on your own would be against the law.

The response to the petition specifically notes that the White House respects the "process" that gives the Library of Congress authority to alter these exemptions. It is, after all, the law. And this is, after all, the Executive Branch. But it's intriguing that they've specifically contradicted the Library of Congress' change to this exemption and recommended a role for the FCC and legislators to play in altering the details of phone unlocking. Well, don't hold your breath for legislators doing much of anything.

We'll see if this goes anywhere. So far, I haven't come across widespread reports of maniacal mobile providers chaining people to their off-contract phones. But the change in the law never really made sense anyway. The DMCA was designed to keep people from illegally ripping DVDs and CDs and distributing them without any DRM. (And boy, it did just the trick, didn't it?). Just because the software on the phone is copyrighted doesn't put this case in the same category.