San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) submitted a petition to the U.S. Copyright Office today signed by more than 8200 people demanding that the office lift the legal cloud hanging over cell phone customers who modify their phones.

The petition was part of EFF's reply comment in the 2009 Copyright Office rulemaking, convened every three years to consider exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) ban on circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. The comments follow EFF's initial exemption requests, filed with the Copyright Office in December, that are aimed freeing cell phones from the software locks that stifle competition and cripple consumers. EFF also represents The Wireless Alliance, ReCellular and FlipSwap, phone recyclers and resellers that rely on phone unlocking to keep functional devices in the hands of consumers and out of landfills.

Cell phone manufacturers and service providers routinely use software locks on mobile phones to prevent customers from connecting to new service providers or running the software of their choosing. While hundreds of thousands of cell phone owners have modified their phones so they can use their devices the way they want to, the threat of litigation under the circumvention provisions of the DMCA threatens to drive this activity underground. For example, EFF's proposed exemptions would eliminate the risk of DMCA liability for those who "unlock" or "jailbreak" their iPhones.

"The DMCA is supposed to protect copyrighted works, not reduce competition and consumer choice," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Cell phone users need a clear message from the Copyright Office that modification is protected."

EFF also submitted a white paper explaining how Apple implements restrictions on the iPhone and T-Mobile implements restrictions on its Android G1 phone. Many of the petition signers also sent their own stories of frustration directly to the Copyright Office.

"Through our website, we heard a lot of stories of consumers and developers who want to innovate and create new tools for mobile phones," said EFF Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "The DMCA shouldn't be used to prevent advances in cell phone technology. Who knows what exciting new feature you might not ever get to use because of the threat of litigation?"

In addition to the cell phone submissions, EFF also requested an exemption to protect the video remix culture currently thriving on Internet sites like YouTube. The filing asks for a DMCA exemption for amateur creators who use excerpts from DVDs in order to create new, noncommercial works.

The Copyright Office will hold public hearings on the DMCA exemption requests in Washington, DC, and California in the spring, and the final rulemaking order will be issued in October.

For EFF's full comments:

For more on the DMCA rulemaking:


Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation