Senate passes cellphone unlocking bill

Unlocked-iPhone 4S

The Senate has passed a bill legalizing cellphone unlocking this week. The unanimous decision to pass the legislation, which was penned by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, came last night, and it will now move to the House and onto President Obama.

The bill reinstates a 2010 ruling by the Librarian of Congress so that consumers can ‘unlock’ their cell phones without worrying about copyright laws. It also directs Congress to consider whether other wireless devices, such as tablets, should be eligible for unlocking…

Here’s more from the press release (via The Verge):

The Senate Tuesday night unanimously passed bipartisan legislation authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would restore the ability of consumers to more easily transfer their cell phones to other wireless carriers.

Approval of the bill comes just days after the Judiciary Committee unanimously reported it to the full Senate. Leahy and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined together last month to announce a bipartisan agreement on the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which they first introduced last year after more than 100,000 consumers signed a “We the People” petition calling for a change in cell phone unlocking law.

As it stands now, unlocking a mobile device hits a gray area in US copyright law. This practice is governed by anti-DRM sections of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and in 2012, the Library of Congress decided to remove an exemption from the Act that made it legal.

This week’s passage comes a year after President Barack Obama announced support for an unlocking policy, and a few months after wireless carriers agreed to adopt it. It’s also very similar to a bill passed by the House in February, with the removal of a ban on bulk unlocking.

So while nothing’s official yet, it sounds like we are getting very close to new unlocking legislation here in the US, which is actually pretty big news for folks looking to take their current cell phone to another carrier, or planning to resale it on the secondary market. Stay tuned.