Friday, February 17, 2006

DMCA Is At It Again

The DMCA was never supposed to be used for anti-competitive reasons. That was said repeatedly when it was first put into place and people raised objections. Yet, over and over again we hear cases where it's obviously being used to stop competitors. The latest, as pointed out by the EFF, is that prepaid wireless provider Tracfone is suing a company that unlocks Tracfone handsets. Tracfone subsidizes the handsets to make it easier for people to buy them, but locks them down to keep people from taking them elsewhere. We actually wrote about this case last September, based on a Wired article that left the participants unnamed (since it was before the suit had been filed, and the writer only knew about it because she was contacted by the unlocking firm for advice on what to do about the cease & desist). Apparently, no one was able to convince Tracfone that using the DMCA as their weapon of choice was a bad idea, so now a lawsuit has been filed. These types of cases have had mixed results so far in the courts, with some rulings being better than others. The courts haven't really set a clear precedent yet, which is unfortunate. Of course, what's silly is that Tracfone could just do this contractually, forbidding anyone who buys a subsidized handset from using it on another network, rather than using the DMCA to go after the firm that does the unlocking. However, most people like to believe that they actually own the products they bought -- which means they should be allowed to modify them, if they choose to do so. Well, at least Tracfone isn't trying to throw the unlockers in jail, like some mobile operators.
I've never liked the DMCA and thought it should never have passed like it did. It's way to restrictive to consumers and way to protective to producers.

posted by David at 4:33 AM :: Permalink ::

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