Unlocking Cellphones Illegal in the U.S. Starting Saturday

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.

From: Mashable.

Scales of Justice by mikecogh from Flickr.

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  • AT&T Rapes Me

    Wtf how stupid

  • Drusenija

    Whilst the fact this is even made it to court is ridiculous in itself, maybe some good will come of this and they’ll rule that all phones must be carrier unlocked or be able to be unlocked at the end of the contract period and make _that_ law instead.

    But I doubt it.

    • http://trishussey.com Tris Hussey

      That’s what happened in Canada. If we own the phone, then we should be able to do with it as we please, including switching carriers.

  • Jake

    Apple is not the only cellphone company in the US.

  • apple

    it is just stupid. now one can’t do anything to his/her own property


    U think this will stop people from unlocking phones that are locked to the carrier? I highly doubt it… What are the fees and fines if one was caught…. Would they go after the overseas people on eBay that factory unlock ur iPhone?

    • http://trishussey.com Tris Hussey

      I think it will be like anything people want to do that becomes illegal for poor reasons…they will find a way to do it.

  • Sam

    I read this and i only got that people who tried to unlock their phones with a software unlock are the only ones affected right? or if i get someone overseas to factory unlock my phone will this also be illegal? and also will i be convicted if so cus im not really the one doing it1

    • http://trishussey.com Tris Hussey

      Not sure at all Sam. There is a lot about this that we just don’t know yet.

  • Joker5656

    Reminds me of the 60’s and 70’s when the phone company controlled (owned) your home telephone. You weren’t allowed to have more than the number of phones they gave you in your home. If you wanted an extra phone in the bedroom, say for emergencies, you had to pay extra per month for that privilege….of course you could find a (stolen) phone and install it yourself….just don’t get caught….one step forward, two steps back….such progress, huh?