by Steven Hilgart, Director of Conference Operations

take our guns but you'll never take our cellphonesMaybe I’m fired up about this new law. Maybe I’m upset that I got another parking ticket the same night. I mean – come on – everyone tells me I HAVE to pay my taxes to pay for roads, but you sure as hell can’t be on them, otherwise you get fined!

Miss the meter by 3 minutes? That’ll be $44.00 – thank you, come again. I swear these parking cops are more ninja-like than I am!

Anyways, Saturday the 26th, this passed:


PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.*


First, let me start by explaining what “unlocking” your phone means. Unlocking a phone removes the restrictions that keep it from working on more than one carrier’s network.

This means, with an unlocked phone, you can use AT&T phones on a T-Mobile network, or Sprint phones on a Verizon network – or – if you’re traveling internationally you can actually use your phone on a local network (handy, huh?).

“Unlocking” is not to be confused with “jail breaking” your phone, which is currently legal. That allows you to install unauthorized software and make critical changes to the operating system (want prettier flowers in the background? You’ll need to do this for sure…)

But there are more sinister things happening here than people wanting to toss you in prison for changing carriers.

First, when did we decide that we wanted a law that would make unlocking your phone a criminal offense?

The answer is – we never did. You see, congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998. The DMCA forbids most attempts to bypass the digital locks on things like DVD’s, music, and computer software.

Its purpose was to outlaw technologies that bypass copyright protections. But one of the more interesting things in the act was that it gave the Library of Congress the power to issue “exemptions from the law” for three years at a time.

This means that the Librarian of Congress decides what is legal, and what isn’t – like unlocking your cell phone – or deciding…

What You Do And Do Not Own

Now, the wording in the DMCA is fairly vague – and done that way for a reason. Basically it says that most software and gadgets that you own – you don’t actually own.

Your DVD Player, Playstation, iPods, or phones, aren’t actually yours to do with what you please. The DMCA actually makes it illegal to modify or change these products that you have bought and paid for.

Have you ever purchased a music CD? How about an iPod? If you didn’t know, CDs don’t actually fit inside iPods (don’t worry, took me a while to figure that one out also).

So how do you listen to the music you purchased, when the iPod that you also purchased, doesn’t have the capability to play your CD? Simple enough, you rip the songs from the CD and upload them to your iPod. But – the DMCA says that if you do this, you are a copyright infringer (Even though the Record Industry Association of America says it’s perfectly legal, and all right with them!).

But the law gets downright brutal…

When It Comes To The Blind!

Amazon got in trouble a while back for allowing the Kindle to do automated text-to-speech. Of course this means it could cut into the publishers’ audio book sales and it could totally violate their rights!

This leads to ridiculous things like the American Foundation for the Blind having to lobby Congress every three years to protect an exception for the blind, allowing a DRM crack for books to be read aloud.

I don’t know about you, but to me – it’s a little silly that a lobby group is required to go to Capitol Hill every three years to explain that the blind still can’t read books on their own and therefore need this exception…

So they make an exception for the blind, but – only if there are no other alternatives (like an audio version at 4-10x the price).

But what really gets me going about this whole DMCA thing is…

They Don’t Think I Own My Property!

Are you serious? I have a Playstation sitting under my TV right now. If I want to open it up and fiddle with it or throw it out the damn window – it should be my decision – not theirs. I paid for it, I own it, who is the Library of Congress (not even the people who make the laws) to tell me what I can or cannot do with it?

Technically every piece of software you have on your computer is leased from the company. It isn’t yours – understandable. But now all of your electronics are this way too? Physical products you have purchased and own are not actually yours to do with as you please? Come on, guys…

I’m definitely going to need my own Escape Hatch after all of this insanity.

So in the end, if you want to listen to CDs on your iPod, or watch DVDs on your tablet, or use your phone outside of the country; you better not because you could find yourself in prison for 5 years with a bill for half a million dollars (maybe that’s how they intend to pay down the national debt?).

Oh – and don’t ever use the roads you paid for, either – apparently they fine you for that, too.