Several readers have pointed to a new CBC article on locked cellphones that includes the following comment from a Telus executive:
"In our world, we don't honour unlocked handsets," said Chris Langdon, Telus vice-president of Network Services. "Unlocking a cellphone is copyright infringement. When you buy a handset from a carrier, it has programming on the phone. It's a copyright of the manufacturer."
The issue of locked vs. unlocked cellphones is an important one, particularly in light of the recent introduction of wireless number portability (which theoretically facilitates consumer movement between providers) and the possible introduction of anti-circumvention legislation that could indeed render unlocking a cellphone a matter of copyright infringement. At the moment, I think the Telus position is simply wrong. Leaving aside the fact that many cellphones are available unlocked (or unlocked by the carrier after the initial contract expires), I am not aware of anyone who has argued that conventional copyright law would prohibit unlocking a cellphone and Canada does not [yet] have anti-circumvention legislation.
In the U.S. there was concern that unlocking a cellphone would violate the DMCA by constituting a circumvention of technological protection measure. Last fall, the U.S. Registrar of Copyright established a specific exception to permit users to unlock cellphones without fear of infringement. The exception covers:
Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.
That exception was vigorously promoted by the Wireless Alliance and Jennifer Granick of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, who noted that the FCC had expressed concern about locked handsets as early as 1992 and that locking was bad for competition, innovation, and the environment. It is disturbing to see Telus promote a legal approach that would push Canada even further behind our partners on the wireless front while adopting copyright law reforms that even the U.S. has found to be overly draconian. Given Minister of Industry Bernier's emphasis on telecommunications deregulation, the Telus comments illustrate the connection between his activities on the telco side and the prospect of copyright reform that undermines marketplace innovation in the telecom sector.