Last week, the world was dismayed by what many termed as the “most ridiculous law yet”, after it was announced that mobile users who unlock (jailbreak) their phones in the United States would be liable to penalties of not less than $500,000 or at least a five-year jail sentence.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) came into force on Saturday in the United States.
Although it is generally accepted that unlocking of phones provided by network providers to users is illegal, the law published by the Library of Congress (LC) will raise the question of who really owns your phone.
The huge fines for violators of contracts with service providers show the ruthless steps that governments and phone manufacturers are willing to take to protect brands against infringements.
Its punitive nature makes the offense more serious than many civil crimes. Laws should be just, and this one is out to protect only phone manufacturers, disregarding consumers.
The fear among many people, especially outside the US, is that such laws have a tendency of being replicated around the globe, especially in developing nations.
In countries such as Kenya, the problem of unlocked smartphones has been taken care of by switching them off, as was done with counterfeit phones, with vendors facing a jail term of up to three years and a penalty of KSh300,000 (approximately $3,445).
It is, however, not only the smartphone division that makes the law outrageous. In the same manner, it is an offence for a DVD holder to convert the material inside to a playable file. According to the piece of legislation, it is illegal to develop, sell, provide or link to technologies that play legal DVDs purchased in a different region, or to convert a DVD to a playable file on your computer.
The law has been met with protest from Linux users, who argue that the Linux operating system lacks licensed DVD playing software for DVDs bought from Europe Middle East and Africa, which have to be converted, meaning users are not allowed to play legally bought DVDs.
To others, however, the law will protect network providers who invest millions of dollars annually in contracts with phone manufacturers to gain an upper hand over their competitors only for the competition to benefit from unlocking the phones.