If your iPhone is carrier locked—and your carrier won’t unlock it for you—and you want to legally unlock it, time’s running out. Starting Saturday in the U.S. unlocking your cellphone will be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and a no-no. At least if you do it yourself. As you’d expect, this will be challenged in court over whether DMCA applied like this is really following the intent of the law.
Essentially it all comes down to copyright, who holds it, and what you, as the consumer, can do with copyrighted material. In this case the copyrighted material in question is a phone’s firmware and according to the Librarian of Congress, we should keep our grubby little hands off it:
In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking cellphones would no longer be allowed. But the librarian provided a 90-day window during which people could still buy a phone and unlock it. That window closes on Jan. 26.[…]
The new rule against unlocking cellphones won’t be a problem for everybody, though. For example, Verizon’s iPhone 5 comes out of the box already unlocked, and AT&T will unlock a phone once it is out of contract.
Right, the firmware is copyrighted and to alter the firmware without permission, is a violation. Yes, carriers can still unlock phones and you can still buy an unlocked phone (like from Apple), but if you buy a locked phone and want to unlock it yourself…sorry it’s off to the hoosegow for for you.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), isn’t happy about it either. EFF attorney Mitch Stoltz said, “Arguably, locking phone users into one carrier is not at all what the DMCA was meant to do. It’s up to the courts to decide.”
Essentially, someone needs to unlock a phone, have the book thrown at them, and then proceed through the courts for unlocking to be legal again (assuming the defendant wins).
Lucky for me, carriers are mandated by law to unlock phones in Canada (a fee is allowed, as are restrictions). Almost makes me want to go and spend the money to get my phone unlocked—because I can.
While this isn’t going to bother folks like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon who already offer the iPhone, T-Mobile has made a business out of enticing iPhone owners over to them. If your phone is unlocked.
While T-Mobile is expected to carry the iPhone this year, in the meantime, this is an issue.
Maybe T-Mobile will be the first to challenge the unlocking is illegal stance.
Scales of Justice by mikecogh from Flickr.