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Unlocking your phone is now against the law in the U.S.

Posted: , by Alan F.

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Unlocking your phone is now against the law in the U.S.
Now that the weekend is here, unlocking your phone has become illegal. As harsh as it seems, anyone who unlocks his or her handset in the U.S. without written consent from his or her carrier, could face civil or even criminal action. At most, you could face a $2,500 fine if you unlock your handset merely to use another carrier. For example, there are nearly 2 million Apple iPhone users who have unlocked their phone, and use T-Mobile's unlimited service. If you unlock phones for profit because you're, say, a cellphone reseller, then it is a whole other ballgame and you could face a half a million dollars in fines and some prison time.

Apple offers the Apple iPhone 5 unlocked starting at $649

Apple offers the Apple iPhone 5 unlocked starting at $649

So what happened to make doing something to your own personal property against the law? The Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office no longer give cellphones an exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The intent of the law was to prevent infringement of copyrights, not to specifically ban the unlocking of your new smartphone. For most people, the change won't make any difference because the majority of mobile phone users don't unlock their handset.

If your phone was unlocked prior to this weekend, don't keep staring at the door waiting for the cops to come bursting in as you are grandfathered in. Besides, no one really expects the carriers to go after their own customers anyway. Despite that, at least one attorney recommends not to unlock that new handset you just bought. Brad Shear, an attorney who is an expert on social media says, "I don't see carriers going aggressively after people, but bottom line is that I would not recommend violating this provision of the law."

The rule against unlocking phones will probably be changed in 2015, the next time it is due to be looked at. Until then, you can always buy a phone that comes unlocked. Apple, for example, sells an unlocked version of the Apple iPhone 5 starting at $649 for the 16GB model.

"It wasn't a good ruling. You should be able to unlock your phone. This law was meant to combat copyright infringement, not to prevent people to do what they want to do with the device they bought."-Rebecca Jeschke, digital rights analyst,Electronic Frontier Foundation

source: ABCNews

84 Comments
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posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:07 5

2. jsdechavez (Posts: 708; Member since: 20 Jul 2012)


This seems reasonable for a country where most are plan/postpaid subscribers.. They get free or discounted/subsidized handsets depending on the cost of the subscription and locked to that network. It's ok that the phone be locked and be used only to the network that paid for it.

However, prepaid subscriptions deserve to be unlocked. Handsets on prepaid will have to be purchased unlocked or in-full, without network subsidies of course.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:21 10

5. frydaexiii (Posts: 1239; Member since: 01 Dec 2011)


No, it isn't reasonable. Carriers sell us discounted/subsidized handsets because we chose them and have decided to tie ourselves down to a 2 year contract with them. What we do with the phone shouldn't be any part of their business since we still have to pay our subscription every month until the 2 years is up and if we terminate our contract before the 2 years, we pay a penalty which would cover the cost of the subsidy/discount the carriers gave us in the first place. Now that's reasonable.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:18 4

27. Bernoulli (Posts: 1473; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


It's retarded man, I remember when I used to have at&t back in 2010 and in the summer that I was traveling outside of the country for nothing at all would they unlock my xperia x10, said the codes weren't available until 2011 no matter which Rep I talked to, went to t-mobile and as a matter of fact I got my note II unlocked 2 weeks after buying the phone, it seems like t-mobile really cares about us consumers by providing the unlock codes outright, the Rep even told me that I could get phones unlocked every 3 months, per line, I have 5 lines so I'm pretty much set anytime I want.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 10:04 3

38. big.e927 (Posts: 94; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)


And yet T-Mobile is the only one out of the four major carriers that bills the grieving families of dead relatives phone lines. Shady as f**k.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 21:09 3

73. Imbatman (Posts: 10; Member since: 07 Jan 2013)


or maybe the grieving familed can call in or take a death certificate to a local store to inform them of the passing. otherwise they dont magically know they have passed. Same with other carriers, dont be pissed if you get a bill and think its BS when no one informs the company with proof. it may sound harsh at the time for the family but we cant take words.

On to the matter at hand, I hate iphones and this law can go to hell.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 21:47 1

76. Bernoulli (Posts: 1473; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


Hahaha that's what I'm saying man! Lol

posted on 28 Jan 2013, 12:37 1

81. donfem (Posts: 554; Member since: 30 Mar 2011)


Common sense states what you just said. However, common sense ain't that common to many.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 21:50 2

77. Bernoulli (Posts: 1473; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


Shady? They can't read minds, retard, and wow you'd talk trash because a death certificate wasn't taken to a t-mobile store? Haha at least they removed the ETF unlike Verizon, whom my neighbor has because his dad passed away and since he was an authorized user Verizon forced him in, he can barely afford Verizon lol

posted on 28 Jan 2013, 12:35 1

80. donfem (Posts: 554; Member since: 30 Mar 2011)


And how is that related to the topic in question? You read something somewhere and hang on to it. Unbelievable. Common sense states that once a dead person 's relative sends a copy of the death certificate to the carier, then it will be taken care of.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:21

28. protozeloz (Posts: 5379; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


It would be OK if you where not tied for a contract, if you find your carrier was crappy cancel the contract playing around 1k for it, would it be fair to now be forbidden to use that phone on another carrier just because someone decided to wave his little finger on me and say FU

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:50

34. frydaexiii (Posts: 1239; Member since: 01 Dec 2011)


Well, that's just how it works here in Singapore. You sign a 2 year contract, you buy a high-end phone for cheap and it's yours to keep and do whatever the hell you want with it unless you decide to break your contract, in which case you pay the rest of the phone cost (which is usually about S$200-S$300) and you still get to keep the phone.

Which is why it is rather common for the folks here who don't use a smartphone to buy one on contract, use the line as usual with their regular phone and sell the smartphone for a profit (Bought for subsidized price of $200, sold for about $500).

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:16 12

3. frydaexiii (Posts: 1239; Member since: 01 Dec 2011)


WTF is this? So in America, when you "buy" a phone you're really just "loaning" it from the carriers? Ha, it's times like these I'm glad I don't live there...

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:27 15

6. e.wvu (unregistered)


Yeah, I sadly have to agree. I live in the U.S. and it seems like all we worry about are small issues, while we ignore the big
ones.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:24

30. Mxyzptlk (Posts: 3996; Member since: 21 Apr 2012)


Well you are buying it subsidized. You don't really own the phone until you either wait out your contract or pay the etf.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:52 3

35. Guile (Posts: 7; Member since: 26 Feb 2012)


That has nothing to do with the subject: If you pay the phone or cancel your contract, it's still illegal to unlock your phone.

posted on 28 Jan 2013, 13:51

82. donfem (Posts: 554; Member since: 30 Mar 2011)


I find myself agreeing with you. Albeit with mixed feeling

posted on 29 Jan 2013, 08:33

83. Bernoulli (Posts: 1473; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


Besides that, at&t won't unlock a phone if bought outright until a year has gone by, I ran across that issue back with my xperia x10a, waited and waited until 2011 when they decided to unlock my device, and now they're doing the same with the lumia 900 and 920

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:16 4

4. regkilla (Posts: 83; Member since: 13 Sep 2012)


Glad my Verizon iPhone 5 comes Unlocked out the box.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 18:53 1

68. darkkjedii (Posts: 12338; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


Lucky u

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:31

7. SonyXperiaNexus (Posts: 374; Member since: 01 Oct 2012)


seems fair enough.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:36 16

8. XPERIA-KNIGHT (unregistered)


Completely and UTTERLY ridiculous! ......its things like this that make me ashamed of this country...... The more america tries to "control" what people do and buy.....the more america will continue to keep its citizens in BONDAGE...........have a good rest of your sunday people

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:41 1

9. wendygarett (unregistered)


unlock it or not, you still pick Verizon in the end, what's the point of unlocked it when you pick the one and only carrier and use it for the rest of your life?

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 07:52 1

10. Nikolas.Oliver (banned) (Posts: 1574; Member since: 01 Jul 2012)


Carriers subsidize the phone you buy, carriers have rights to prohibit unlocking cellphones, if you don't want that to happen just buy the unlocked one, it is that simple

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:52 3

36. Guile (Posts: 7; Member since: 26 Feb 2012)


That has nothing to do with the subject: If you pay the phone or cancel your contract, it's still illegal to unlock your phone.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:05

11. Azure01 (Posts: 126; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)


So basically T-mobile has until 2015 to get their hands on the iPhone.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:44 6

19. big.e927 (Posts: 94; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)


No, T-Mobile is already getting their own iPhones. The unlocking being.illegal is effective today, so no more taking your unlocked iPhone to T-Mobile UNLESS you have the original carrier for that phone approve of it. So either way, you'd get stuck being AT&T's bitch either way. Most likely, carriers will charge you a fee so you can unlock your phone, it seems as the only "fair" alternative. >.>

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:06

12. lonewolf2873 (Posts: 40; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)


What is the definition of "unlocking"? Is root considered unlocking or is it just unlocking to go to a different carrier? Unlocking is a pretty broad word.
Unless I don't fully understand root and it does unlocking to get a different carrier.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:34 1

33. roscuthiii (Posts: 1857; Member since: 18 Jul 2010)


Unlocking has more to do with a phones ability to work on other carriers. Carriers all work within certain ranges of radio frequency bandwidth that they own/license. The cell radios inside the phone can usually operate within a wide array of those frequencies. (It's more efficient for the manufacturers to produce one radio chip as opposed to having to manufacture multiple versions.)
The carriers then include firmware which limits you to use only their frequency. Unless they have roaming contracts, whereby they can really jack up the cell charges.

Rooting is still legal as far as I know.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:13 5

13. Tre-Nitty (Posts: 460; Member since: 16 Nov 2010)


This isn't gonna stop ppl and especially resellers from unlocking. How are they gonna prove who unlocked the phone and further more, who is gonna care enough to investigate it?

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 18:55

69. darkkjedii (Posts: 12338; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


IPS# for those using Internet. Unless there's another way.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:17 6

14. droiddomination (Posts: 203; Member since: 01 Dec 2011)


They are taking away your rights and freedoms one at a time. Pretty soon will all be hauling stones to help build a pyramid for our pharoah. Pathetic! I am still going to unlock every phone I get! F the govt!

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:20 3

15. md227a (Posts: 127; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)


What about people like me who buy carrier branded phones at retail price. Yes, its branded but I didn't get subsidy I should be able to unlock if I want to.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:46 5

20. big.e927 (Posts: 94; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)


Again, you must get permission from your carrier which will more than likely require you to pay a fee. Nothing to excessive I'm sure, but still a pain in the ass and degrading, which sucks, because all major carriers besides Sprint are charging too f**king much.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 19:55

71. JC557 (Posts: 1149; Member since: 07 Dec 2011)


Before there was no fee for Verizon. You just have to be in good standing for 6 months and they'll unlock the phone for free. Now that this has passed I wonder if Verizon will start implementing fees.

Since my family and I (extended as well) have been with Verizon for 10 years or so, the carrier better continue to unlock my phone for free.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 08:24 1

16. RGreen (Posts: 48; Member since: 06 Jul 2012)


Hot Damn, one bad apple! My Guess is all smartphones that are unlocked craple messed it up for everyone I'm getting this right or this only apply to apple?

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:22

29. Bernoulli (Posts: 1473; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


Well I guess we can still buy phones from Amazon that come unlocked, but the question is, let's say I buy a nokia lumia 920 from Rogers, and I unlock it here in the US, does that mean that I'd have to pay a fine to at&t because I'm violating their exclusivity in this country? Or is it that Canadian carriers don't care? Because technically this retarded law is in the USA and Here's where I'd be committing the crime.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:24 1

31. protozeloz (Posts: 5379; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


This is a load of.....

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 09:58 1

37. Guile (Posts: 7; Member since: 26 Feb 2012)


It's strange, while in other country like France it's illegal for a carrier to refuse to unlock a device, even more, they have to provide the service; in the USA it is forbidden... Yes it seems retard.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 10:15 1

40. legend1 (Posts: 103; Member since: 08 Oct 2012)


this sucks big time :(

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 10:35

41. yowanvista (Posts: 308; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)


Why even bother? Just buy an international device with no dumb xyz U.S carrier bloatware, their devices are bundled with crap, loaded with a locked bootloaders and receive updates much after then international versions. A clear example is the SIII (i9300/i9305) which is way better than the ATT/Sprint/T-Mobile garbage exclusive crap versions. U.S Citizens literally love their restrictions.. /s

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 10:42

43. timtimity (Posts: 196; Member since: 13 Aug 2012)


Surely it shouldn't matter if you unlocked your device while it's still on contract. You could unlock it and put a different provider's sim card in the phone, but you've still got to pay the remainder of the contract the phone came with. Even if you unlock on the day you get the phone the provider is still going to get the money you agreed to pay for the next 12/18/24 months.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 10:50 2

45. Whateverman (Posts: 3231; Member since: 17 May 2009)


Another win for the US Carriers because as you can imagine there will be a new or high fee for unlocking devices. And for those saying it sounds fair because you're getting a subsidized phone, think long term. What happens when I'm off contract, moving to an area that my current carrier has no service and I don't want to buy another subsidized phone? Or what if I paid full retail? Or what if I canceled the contract, paid the high etf which was supposed to offset the cost of the price of the phone? Should customers in any of these situations be allowed to do with the phone as they please seeing as though they do own it?

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 10:57 2

46. networkdood (Posts: 6301; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


F' this law...not all laws passed by our federal or state governments are good..Look at the NDAA laws passed 2 januaries ago....just because they were signed into law does not mean that they are correct. In California, they regularly passed propositions that do more harm than good. You have to watch what they do as many a times, the government passes laws for the benefit of corporations and not the people - and, the people is where the government's power derives from....at least it used to.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 11:00 2

49. cripton805 (Posts: 965; Member since: 18 Mar 2012)


This is how legislation screws the people. I mean, was it REALLY necessary to go through legislation? How about letting us vote and decide. This is not copyright. It's to profit the carriers.

Now, if we want a Razr, we HAVE to go through Verizon.

Great example of our DEMOCRACY.
The government is all out to always profit the people with the big bucks.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 11:16 1

51. networkdood (Posts: 6301; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


The government is the corporation now - most of the PAC money comes from large corporations - our founding fathers would be p'od if they found out about how our government works nowadays. I could go on for hours about what has been happening since the the creation of the Federal Reserve, but then I would be on the website...lol

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 12:08 1

52. cR203 (Posts: 188; Member since: 27 Jan 2013)


This is so stupid. I never thought i would see the day when unlocking your own phone becomes illegal.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 12:48 1

54. jdep1 (banned) (Posts: 26; Member since: 06 Nov 2012)


In the USA we pay hundreds of dollars to "buy" a phone & be stuck for 2 years with that carrier. So much freedom!!

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 13:09

57. vvelez5 (Posts: 623; Member since: 29 Jan 2011)


Anyone else want to stick up for government here? I thought not.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 13:26 1

58. idroidequis (Posts: 103; Member since: 23 Jan 2013)


Ehhhh it just means stop being so picky with phones. Especialy now with every carrier has a varient of the same phone. This dosnt hurt me one bit. and if I do want a international phone Im sure I can get a unlocked code in another nation in a matter of days.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 14:35 2

60. beillax (Posts: 23; Member since: 03 Aug 2011)


this is ridiculous! We have so many nonsense laws in this country.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 16:06

63. ogy_dogy (Posts: 453; Member since: 29 Jun 2012)


Land of the free my as$, here in croatia, the carrier is obligated to unlock your phone after half a year... and we are considered a second world country... lol

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 19:51

70. Fuego84 (Posts: 287; Member since: 13 May 2012)


Wait this article doesn't specify about unlocking a phone whether it's subsidized or purchase in full. I believe that if you paid in full then it's fully up to you what you do with it. But if it's stillon contract and subsidized then tough luck losers, its not yours until it's paid in full. I always pay full price and with replacement plan even if it adds another $100 or more.

posted on 27 Jan 2013, 21:20 2

74. ktj4236 (Posts: 1; Member since: 27 Jan 2013)


No one is talking about the right issue. While everyone is talking about the new law, no one is questioning whether the library of congress or the U.S. patent office has the authority to change or in-act new law. They do not nor have ever had the authority. They are a monitoring entity and cannot make or change laws. Only the congress has the authority. This new "law" is illegal on its face. People need to keep unlocking phones and take this to court.

posted on 28 Jan 2013, 09:44 1

78. crazymonkey05 (Posts: 156; Member since: 20 Nov 2012)


This is really dum especially for the sony xperia line of phone where unlocking the boot loader also unlocks the network so that means were locked to the firmware too, ugh stupid america

posted on 28 Jan 2013, 10:27 1

79. gwuhua1984 (Posts: 1237; Member since: 06 Mar 2012)


Well... all my phones are bought unlocked... SO BITE ME STUPID GOVERNMENT!

posted on 12 Feb 2014, 01:09

84. ndrey (Posts: 41; Member since: 30 Nov 2012)


The White House is going to cancel this New Law but still there are many companies likehttp://digitalunlocking.com/official-factory-unlocking-method-att-iphone-slow-package/

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