Unlocking your Cellphone: Property Rights in the Digital Age
If there’s one gadget nearly impossible to live without in the 21st century, it’s the cellphone. Most of us keep one on us at all times, and a recent survey showed that, for a majority of 18-34 year olds, the hardest possession to live without would be the smartphone. But is it really YOUR smartphone?
A recent decision by the Librarian of Congress, under authority granted by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), made it illegal to unlock your smartphone, aka use the hardware and software in ways not approved by cellphone carriers. Critics contend this undermines traditional notions of property rights, namely the right to use your property as you see fit, and over 100,000 people have signed a petition on the White House website advocating overturning this policy. Meanwhile, supporters maintain that the restriction is necessary to combat digital piracy, and many major industry groups argue that it is an appropriate legal guarantee of their own property rights.
Property rights have always been a tricky subject, but as property increasingly becomes virtual it is getting even harder to define “what’s mine and what’s yours.” In this week’s eLesson we’ll explore property rights in the context of smartphones, and evaluate where we should be setting the line.