While we knew that as of last Saturday, January 26th, it is illegal to unlock your iPhone to use it on another carrier’s network in the U.S., we really didn’t know what this meant for someone who is found guilty of unlocking their phone.
We’ve just found out the penalties for unlocking a subsidized phone without carriers consent can be severe.
CTIA (a wireless trade group that counts every major U.S. wireless carrier among its members) providers more clarity on the penalties on its official blog.
Civil penalties are based on the carrier’s actual damages and any additional profits of the violator, or a court can award statutory damages of not less than $200 or more than $2,500 per individual act. Criminal penalties are even more severe: any person convicted of violating section 1201 willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain (1) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and (2) shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, for any subsequent offense.
It doesn’t mean that the police are going to come knocking on your door because you unlocked your phone, but as Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Mitch Stoltz points out, it makes lawsuits more likely. But it will still be left to the courts to decide if it was indeed illegal for the person to unlock his phone.
“What’s happening is not that the Copyright Office is declaring unlocking to be illegal, but rather that they’re taking away a shield that unlockers could use in court if they get sued.”
There are a number of genuine reasons where you may want to unlock your phone, for example, if you end up moving to an area during the two-year contract where your carrier doesn’t have coverage. It can also be useful for users who travel abroad regularly, and want to use a local SIM to avoid exorbitant international roaming charges.
As Derek Khanna of TheAtlantic points out, what’s absurd about this situation is that Librarian of Congress has been able to pass a law that can put people in jail rather than elected officials. If you don’t agree, sign the White House petition which is seeking to make unlocking legal again. At the time of writing, there were more than 25,000 signatures on the petition. An official White House response requires 100,000 signatures by February 23, 2013.