Jailbreak, root, unlock – how it works now, legally speaking

by: Chris SmithJanuary 29, 2013


A few days ago we told you that starting January 26, 2013, you won’t be able to unlock your smartphone from the shackles of your carrier, at least not legally, but we also showed you a petition asking the White House to intervene in the matter.

While we wait for more answers regarding carrier unlocks, here’s what you should know about it, legally speaking, especially if you own an Android device and you like doing custom stuff to it.

The EFF, which is short for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has posted up an explanation of what jailbreaking, rooting and unlocking means starting with January 26. As expected, there’s good news and bad news involved, so depending on what you want to do with your Android device you’ll be either very happy or very annoyed.

Jailbreaking and rooting

When it comes to jailbreaking and rooting smart devices, this stuff is still legal at least until 2015. That means you can root Android handsets, or jailbreak iOS devices, without having to worry about what could happen to you, from a legal stand point. Sure, we won’t encourage you to perform such procedure, no matter how well-versed you are in performing such tricks, but you have the right to do what you please with your device.

While these procedures won’t get you in trouble with the law, they may still void you warranty with the retailer and/or maker of the device you’re jailbreaking / rooting, so make sure you pay attention to the fine print before going through with such tricks.


Jailbreaking / rooting will let you install custom software on your handset, bypassing the locks in place set by the manufacturer and is not to be confused with unlocking the handset to be used with a different mobile operator.


You may want to unlock a smartphone either to use it on a different network or to sell it for a profit. Smartphones are usually locked to a carrier when said carrier sells them for subsidized prices, which means a contract is involved. The smartphone costs less money upfront, but you’re stuck in a 1-, 2- or 3-year contract, depending on country, during which time you’ll pay the full price of the handset and then some. At the end of the contract – or during it – you can ask the carrier to unlock the handset, and there may be fees involved. Or you could do it yourself if you know how to do it, and especially if it’s legal.

As of January 26, you won’t be able to unlock devices without the carrier’s permission not even after the contractual period is over, at least in the U.S., which is why plenty of you will be annoyed with the situation.

As the EFF puts it, it’s not likely that carrier will go after individuals for unlocking their devices – yes, we don’t encourage you to do that either – but they may go after businesses that sell unlocked devices and/or are involved in unlocking procedures:

Now, the bad news. While we don’t expect mass lawsuits anytime soon, the threat still looms. More likely, wireless carriers, or even federal prosecutors, will be emboldened to sue not individuals, but rather businesses that unlock and resell phones. If a court rules in favor of the carriers, penalties can be stiff – up to $2,500 per unlocked phone in a civil suit, and $500,000 or five years in prison in a criminal case where the unlocking is done for “commercial advantage.” And this could happen even for phones that are no longer under contract. So we’re really not free to do as we want with devices that we own.

This may change later down the road, with the next round of exemptions set to start in late 2014, so by then you’ll have to pay extra attention to what you put your handset through.

Remember then: jailbreaking and rooting are safe, legally speaking, while unlocking isn’t.

  • Clayton Ljungberg

    What are the stipulations on rooting in 2015?

  • Glad i dont live in america then

    • I do… and it isn’t the America I grew up hearing about. Many things are going wrong at the moment and this is another reason to make us look bad. No, I do not want to be anywhere else, but neither do I want America to become someone else.

  • one pissed off fandroid

    That is beyond retarted!!.. . What about phones that are bought unlocked…for example the nexus 4… I bought it off Google.play…. I am so bothered by this… rooting hurts noone.. and Google wants us to experiment on there nexus devices… and what if in 2015 before the deadline I root a device… it can’t be my fault.. as of this point I’m staying without Google… forget phone company contracts.. T-Mobile in March is changing to value plans only.. and doing cheaper plans…but making the customer buy phones at like $100 then slapping them with a added $20 a month reaching the full price of the phones… so like $600. ..that’s why I love Google… $300 no contract… own the best phone available on the market.and it came unlocked . Now this crap!.. Google needs to make it’s own phone service… and allow rooting within only there phone service only!… I’d pay. ..pay double what I pay now for this to happen.

    • one angry fandroid

      Within* Google… typo …. also not to mention… the nexus 4 audio recording sucks…and it needed to be rooted to fix that…. or also OTG on my nexus 7… 32gb…not enough.. unless I have OTG with a harddrive.

    • Apple_Nexus

      And what if you actually read the article, or learnt some grammar? Rooting / jailbreaking is OK. Buying and using a factory unlocked phone is OK. Unlocking a carrier locked phone in order to use with another network is NOT OK!

      • fandroid

        OK till 2015. And learnt? Whats that… and when u phrase it that way. It’s like I’m talking to a elder and disrespecting him.. like really?.. learn sum grammar?.. ur panties in a bunch?.. shut up and go hate on someone else

        • On a Clear Day

          What’s the big deal? If you are foolish and uncircumspect enough to sign a two year contract, and are honorable and are going to live up to it, you can’t switch anyway.

          I personally, would be less willing to sign a cell phone contract than I would imagine Job would be to re-up for a second set of boils. To me, it is financially foolish. I know someone who was saying what a great deal he has now with his new Droid HD with Verizon – only costs him $110.00 a month with his new contract!!

          $110.00 x 24 months + $200.00 outlay for the phone = $2840.00 plus tax of say 9 percent of $158.40
          $2798.40 for two years

          $600.00 phone bought outright + 24 months at $50.00/month ($1200) = $1800.00 x 9 percent sales tax of $162.00 = $1962.00 total for two years. I own the phone; I can do with it as I will and can shop around at any time for the carrier with the best service and price.

      • fandroid

        What if u buy a phone not unlocked that’s outside the states.. and the carrier isn’t a US carrier.. and it’s bought online and unlocked in the states…then what? Think about this before u answer.. because no US Carriers are carrying the phone..

  • Yeah I would say that this paragraph right here got my attention: “As of January 26, you won’t be able to unlock devices without the carrier’s permission not even after the contractual period is over, at least in the U.S., which is why plenty of you will be annoyed with the situation.”

    Once the contract is over or your ETF is paid, you should own the phone and be able to unlock it without a carrier caring. I own to Smartphones, an AT&T LG Thrive and a unlocked Samsung Galaxy Nexus. This means while the GNex is not affected, the LG Thrive is. I would have to ask AT&T to unlock the Thrive.

    I wonder if this affects Google in anyway on selling unlocked Smartphone in the Google Play Store, Apple selling unlocked iPhones or eBay sellers who sell unlocked phones? I bought the GNex slightly used on eBay.

    • fresh_TD

      and how exactly are they going to enforce this??? thats right they can’t.. this is all unnecessary if you ask me…

      • Actually it wouldn’t be that hard. When they sale you the device your carrier already has your IMEI information. They could use something along the lines of that new “stolen phone database” to cooperatively block phones based off IMEIs that aren’t approved for unlocking.

        It won’t affect direct carriers or manufactures because as mentioned time and time again the law stipulated only phones W/O carrier approval. They’ll more than likely target eBay power sellers and shops that snatch up phones by the masses, unlock them and then sell them off.

      • Geek_News is right, a carrier can simply block your IMEI. If you go onto ebay, there are several Smartphones that have blocked IMEI that can’t be used on that particular carrier. But I don’t know how far that list extends too .

  • Scott Elsdon

    You shoudl really title this, In America, land of the free, for the rest of the world who reads your blog, pah

  • and yet another meaningless item them the government is trying to dabble in. I sure wish they would take half as much time as they do in the useless stuff and put it towards things the public is more concerned about.

  • The answer is simple, never, never, never buy a locked handset.

    To put it another only ever buy a handset that is unlocked.

    • That’s a good way of looking at it and that’s good for GSM Networks like AT&T, T-Mobile and more, but how do you buy a unlocked CDMA Smartphone that works on Verizon and Sprint?

      I believe all headsets should be sold with both CDMA and GSM network compatible. I believe the Verizon iPhone 5 is, but I don’t want an iPhone thank you.

  • Sometimes im glad that i live in a fully free country like Brasil.

  • jason cannon

    Is the galaxy S3 faster the iphone5 and does the s3 come with a pen

  • I hope somedays Evad3rs team http://www.evasi0n.bz/ will release the root jailbreak for Android