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Feed Techdirt: Why Are People Being Sent To Jail For Unlocking A Mobile Phone? (techdirt.com)

For a few years, we've been covering the various lawsuits over mobile phone unlocking, mostly involving the company TracFone. TracFone focuses on the "prepaid" mobile phone market. That is, rather than selling long term contracts to people with various total minutes, it just sells phones with a certain number of minutes already on them that can then be re-upped at the buyer's discretion. However, like typical mobile phone service providers, TracFone subsidizes the price of the phone in order to make it seem quite cheap (sometimes as low as $10 or $15). The idea is to hook people and make money on selling the minutes. However, there's no requirement that people buy more minutes.

What's happened, of course, is that people figured out a huge arbitrage opportunity. They buy TracFone phones on the cheap, unlock them, and then resell them for a higher price (often outside the country). The problem here is TracFone's choice of a business model. It decided to subsidize the phones and it set up a business model that doesn't require people to sign a long term contract or ever agree to buy more minutes. However, if you listen to TracFone tell the story, this is a case of felony interference of a business model, and anyone unlocking those phones must be stopped.

For a while it was abusing the DMCA for this purpose -- using it to claim that the unlocking was circumvention of copy protection. Of course, that's exactly how the DMCA is not supposed to be used -- and that was made even more clear when the Library of Congress explicitly carved out an exemption for mobile phone unlocking, making it quite clear that this is perfectly legal. TracFone has whined about this, but it still doesn't amount to much more than that the company just picked a bad business model.

However, the situation keeps getting more bizarre. Some folks involved in one of these arbitrage opportunities were eventually arrested for terrorism, after US officials assumed that anyone buying so many prepaid phones must be planning some sort of attack (don't ask). This had companies in the space suddenly claiming that this action of unlocking prepaid phones was a national security threat (seriously). What's scary is that some officials seem to believe it.

It turns out that TracFone actually is winning a bunch of the lawsuits it's filing, using both questionable copyright and trademark claims. However, the real kicker is that one man is actually facing jailtime for this. It's a little unclear from the wording in the article, as the jailtime may actually be as a result of him ignoring a judge's order to stop the practice of reselling unlocked TracFones -- but it's still not clear why it's illegal to unlock these phones that were legally purchased. The DMCA exemptions say that unlocking a phone is perfectly legal, and as long as the phone was legally purchased, it's now the possession of the buyer, who should be allowed to tinker with the software and resell it without having to worry about lawsuits or (worse) jailtime. Yes, TracFone is upset that it wipes out their business model, but the law isn't designed to protect their own poor choice of business models.

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Privacy

Submission + - Lex Orwell: Why Aren't You Listening, Reinfeldt? (radsoft.net) 1

Eric Blair writes: The controversy surrounding Lex Orwell and prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has become so bizarre that the editors of his own newspaper Svenska Dagbladet have chosen to turn against him. Or at least to ask him in an open editorial if he really knows what he's doing.
Programming

Submission + - PowerShell: now a build tool for .NET projects? (build-doctor.com)

An anonymous reader writes: There's another build tool in town. This one is 200 lines of PowerShell (aka Monad). It doesn't sound that impressive until you think that the Ruby build tool Rake had similar beginnings, and now it's a compelling make replacement ...

Comment Re:Organization is everything... (Score 5, Insightful) 685

The difference between Microsoft and Google in this regard is that users pay to beta test Microsoft's sofwtare without being told it is, at best, in beta quality. Where as Google invites (initially selectively) people to try the product and provide feedback. They're in beta for a very long time because they want it to be stable before declaring version "1.0". Small contrast, but expectation goes a long way towards the perception of quality.

If I'm paying money for retail software, I expect a rock solid product, not the buggy POS that I have to wait for the first Service Pack to use even the most basic functionality.
Google is up front with the fact that their software is not necessarily ready for prime time and users can hedge their bets accordingly. That said, Google beta products are often many times better than the "final version" of software from other vendors.

Music

Submission + - The IMSLP Is Back!

gacl writes: The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) went back online today after an absence of eight months. In October of last year the IMSLP shut down due to legal threats from the Austrian publisher Universal Edition. The fact that Austrian laws do not apply in Canada (where the IMSLP is based) did not stop the European publisher from using strong-arm tactics. In the open letter posted on the new site Feldmahler (real name: Edward W. Guo) thanks the Canadian Internet Policy And Public Interest Clinic, the Stanford Fair Use Project, professors Michael Geist and Lawrence Lessig, Project Gutenberg leader Michael Hart, and GNU project leader Richard M. Stallman, for their help in bringing the site back. Aside from these people and organizations Feldmahler also thanks several music publishers for helping out in the IMSLP's resurrection, although there is no mention of which specific companies.

The IMSLP is the largest wiki-based repository of public domain sheet music in PDF format, numbering more than 16000 scores.
Encryption

Submission + - Safeguarding data from the Staatssicherheit

An anonymous reader writes: Now that the Swedish government (in its infinite wisdom) has passed a law allowing them to monitor email traffic, a question that I think a lot of people are asking (or at least should be asking) is: what can I do to improve my privacy. The answer is not obvious. So, what are the best solutions for seamless email encryption, search privacy, etc? What are your experiences with PGP vs GPG vs ...? In this day and age, why is the use of this type of privacy technologies still so limited? Why isn't there a larger movement promoting the use of privacy tools? Also, what is in your opinion the largest privacy concern? Search tracking? Email transfer? I believe this is an interesting question not only for Swedes, but for everyone. Lots of traffic is passing through Sweden, but more importantly, the Swedish government is not alone in using this type of surveillance.

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