The Battle Over Cellphone Unlocking

In Derek Khanna’s view, the way to build a durable movement to protect the Internet as an innovative ecosystem is to win a series of “small, and highly strategic, affirmative victories.” And he describes the battle over cellphone unlocking as the first potential victory:

On January 26, 2013, it became illegal to unlock new phones. Unlocking is a technique to alter the settings on your phone to let you use it with compatible cellular networks operated by other carriers. Doing so now could place you in legal liability: up to 5 years in jail and a $500,000 fine. This is a violation of our property rights. It makes you wonder: if you can’t alter the settings on your phone, do you even own it?

This is just one clear example of intellectual property laws run amok: the underlying law was created to protect copyright, but it’s being applied in a situation that no legislator expected when they voted for the bill in 1998. It’s a clear example of crony capitalism, where a few companies asked for the law to be changed to their pecuniary benefit—despite the invasion of our property rights, its impact upon consumers, and its impact upon the overall market. The decision created even higher thresholds to entry for new market participants, which hinders competition and leads to less innovation.

So far, Congress has failed to act to reverse this decision. But now, as the issue gains visibility via an online petition, it is at least possible that some action will be taken, provided the “SOPA generation” continues to apply pressure. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More