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
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