As you might know, unlocking your iPhone through any means other than your carrier or manufacturer became illegal starting this week under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA prevents unauthorised modification of software, and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been responsible for winning exceptions for jailbreaking and unlocking since the past few years.
Late last year, the EFF managed to keep jailbreaking legal but unlocking was removed from the list of exceptions. This made unlocking a criminal offence, under which the offender could be fined $500,000 or be imprisoned for five years.
The EFF clarifies that phones that have been purchased before January 26th, the day the law went into effect, can still be legally unlocked through unofficial means. New phones are still at risk, though:
While we don’t expect mass lawsuits anytime soon, the threat still looms. More likely, wireless carriers, or even federal prosecutors, will be emboldened to sue not individuals, but rather businesses that unlock and resell phones. If a court rules in favor of the carriers, penalties can be stiff – up to $2,500 per unlocked phone in a civil suit, and $500,000 or five years in prison in a criminal case where the unlocking is done for “commercial advantage.” And this could happen even for phones that are no longer under contract. So we’re really not free to do as we want with devices that we own.
Additionally, EFF points to a court ruling that says the DMCA shouldn’t protect restrictions or locks that prevent devices from talking to each other (in this case talking to different networks) unless there’s “creative work,” that is, intellectual property involved. Since carriers aren’t really worried about theft of their “creative work,” this still remains a grey area, and if a case like this reaches the court, there is a possibility that the court favors the person who has unlocked his phone.
The EFF does a great job at protecting digital rights and even you can do your bit by signing this White House petition that asks the Obama administration to add unlocking to the DMCA exempted list again.