Mobile phone unlocking will be illegal by January 26

by: J. Angelo RacomaJanuary 25, 2013

banner-galaxy-s3-i9300-galaxsim-unlock-120905If you have a network-locked mobile phone in your hands, you might want to consider having it unlocked soon. By tomorrow, January 26th, it will already be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to unlock a mobile phone without permission from your carrier.

Recall that in October, the Librarian of Congress gave a 90-day window for smartphone buyers to unlock their phones, and that window lapses tomorrow. This means that you will need to get express permission from AT&T, for instance, before you can use your SIM-equipped smartphone with another network. However, you will be legally allowed to unlock your device once it’s out of contract, or if you have paid the full price, as opposed to getting the phone via subsidy.

There are exceptions, though. According to our previous report on the matter, the ruling allows users to arbitrarily unlock smartphones purchased before January 2013. Of course, some carriers already offer their smartphones unlocked from the box, such as Verizon’s iPhone 5. Apple also sells the iPhone 5 unlocked for $649, while we Android lovers can always opt for the $299 Google Nexus 4 from the Google Play Store, which does not come with network locks or carrier subsidies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticized the Librarian of Congress for this seemingly unfair use of the DMCA provisions. “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,” said the advocacy group in a statement.

In a statement to TechNewsDaily, Christopher S. Reed from the U.S. Copyright Office clarified that “only a consumer, who is also the owner of the copy of software on the handset under the law, may unlock the handset.” However, the Librarian of Congress had clarified that software in smartphones and other devices will remain the intellectual property of the developer. Meanwhile, users are only granted rights and licenses under the EULA. As such, it will no longer be within fair use to break network locks because you don’t own the phone’s software in the first place.

Perhaps this will be one main driver toward user preference for bring-your-own device setups that carriers like T-Mobile are now promoting.

Update: We have interesting comments on our Google+ post covering this article. Some suggest a workaround: you can actually backup the phone’s stock OS, and then re-flash it with a custom unlocked ROM. That way, you essentially preserve the software — which the phone company or carrier owns — so that you can legally unlock the phone.

  • SUCK MA NIPPLES YANKEES!!!! :D only in the US

  • StevenLockey

    Ah so basically all it really says is you can’t unlock it till your contract is up (since at that point you legally own the phone, instead of it been owned by the phone company, which it is for the initial duration of the contract)

  • fawfsag

    Too bad Americans…

    • AndroidBrian

      Law can’t be enforced. Probably just void warranty. Which rooting your phone already does anyways.

  • friech34

    OMG how can i used my phone to other country

  • MasterMuffin

    And how are they going to control this?

    • my thought exactly, how? we all know there will still be scumbags jailbreaking iphones wishing they where android phones. but hey, it says nothing about rooting :D

      • MasterMuffin

        And it’s only in America! :)

      • doucebag read carefully , its not about jailbreaking , its about unlocking phone will be illegal even for android to , and jailbreaking is legal . this kind of fanboyism makes android looks like fandroid.

        • to UNLOCK a IPHONE you need to jailbreak. as far as i know.

          • you can unlock iphone using gevey sim also and jailbreak unlocking is only for 3gs and 4 only

          • ok!! well, thanks for correcting me.

          • Max

            Jailbreaking is for iphones only, unlock is for GSM phones, flashing is for CDMA phones, that’s terms most common used bitween customers/buyers/sellers of new and used smatrphones. For exemple you can’t jailbreak non smartphone, you can only unlock from provider, flashing means unlock from provider and changing ESN of that phone (CDMA) if it reported stolen…

  • emocrazy

    well it’s just stupid..

  • LOL America. You can shoot person if he/she in on your property, but you can’t unlock your phone. I guess phone isn’t your property ;)

    • Mike

      Dude, you have no idea about what subsidizing a phone is, do you? I’m sure there is no such a thing in Croatia. Also, what does butter has to do with shampoo?

      • If you buy something, you should are to do anything with/on it unless it’s harmful to other people because you are the owner. If you buy a phone, you can throw it against the wall if you want, but nooooo… you mustn’t unlock it, that’s crime against humanity.

        • Eduardo Covarrubias

          While I understand your sentiment, you technically don’t own something until you buy it. As it stands a lot of carriers require you to return the phones if you cancel out of a contract prematurely. A subsidized phone is the equivalent of a leased vehicle and people still modify their vehicles with aftermarket parts even if it’s against the terms of leasing. That being said, I don’t see why people wont unlock their phone, with very little repercussions likely to happen. This could also be a blessing in disguise and we’ll see more companies follow in the foot steps of T-Mobile and offer un-subsidized plans.

          • Oh, I guess it doesn’t work like that in Croatia. There is no way you can return the phone. It isn’t anything like leasing. You write a contract and you have to pay for the phone no matter what – no returns accepted. They’ll sue your ass if you won’t pay and they don’t care if you want to return the phone.

          • id10t -but i try€

            actually they want the balance of the etf and the retail if tge devuce,but same thibg i guess,why can they have carrier iq and “diagnotic info collection on your device ,is there a law pertaing to what i prefer not to have or to have on my property?just asking

        • mo ,show me

          sorry for my sarcasm

    • Rhyno

      You can’t shoot people just for being on your property– only if they’re breaking into your home. This law won’t stop anyone from jailbreaking their phones.

  • Aziz Farhi

    Lol, Illegal my ass. people will carry on unlocking their phones whenever they want to. DMCA can’t do shit to control this.

  • nexus2012

    too bad for us americans? its only a stupid phone! i dont think this is right to do, but i would rather be able to have freedom of speech and religion and what not then unlock my dumb phone. get the priorities straight! america is the greatest country ever. for now

  • AndroidBrian

    This is being blown out of proportion. If you call your carrier and ask for a unlock code they give it to you. Well at least T-Mobile does. And it states you can unlock if you have your carriers permission. So why does this even matter?

    Besides it can never be enforced. Its pretty much just a dumb way to scare people into not unlocking there phones without going through your carrier.

    • LockedIn

      AT&T will not unlock your phone for you. I purchased a used phone and they would not unlock it because it was within the original owner’s contract period, even though the original owner terminated his contract. Locking phones to a network is about creating technological lock-in and preventing marketplace competition.

      • sim grifter

        Illegal for what,when i have to shell out over seven bills for a device and 6 months goes by,no patch no shit,sorry att ill unlock my device to work on your network,and i dont paticularly ever plan to use your service,but anyone whod like to feel free!!!

        • newbie but i try

          root the t -mobile variant of a certain “letter” lol or is that note,run region unlock,boom,your device grows a oink horn and a horses head,no wait that was a joe rogan podcast i saw

  • nonyabizness

    Here’s an idea … on your next trip abroad … done! And show the finger to the corporation owned US Congress

    And to the fellow who thinks this isn’t about freedom of speech, note that it is. If you haven’t figured out long-term implications of this, watch out.

  • Maja Filova

    Recently I found service that Works Perfectly and wont void your warranty with Apple. Their unlock Are fully LEGAL because they use official carrier unlocks. I love them:

  • It’s really not legal. I have found many apps from this blog:

    • scared of the dark:p

      and why is it ilkegal if i pay for the device,no contract,just pay for the carriers service,i bought the phone,kinda like nsa purjury and hell 4th amendment shredding right in your face,if the govt can surveille the planet including the people they uh hum “are suppose to work fir i.e. all of us” i’ll unlock a device i payed full price for and go home and cut my pillow tag off while im at it,f em!!!!

  • nobody and that is the truth

    anyone wanna buy an unlocked note 3 ,its know tripped but running stock besides the root,and but it says ifficial in settings and bootloader,hell all i was doing was hitting the”an app has been shut down for trying to access unauthorized system apps,next thing i know it rooted itself,i’d like to file a complaint about such unlawful actions,so is it knox SElinux,or just a glitch in the firmware that the customer revering sam and the googler argued about it on their trip to the banks plural.ok i wont unlock or root,as soon as i get a overpriced device that actually is fully functional before 30 million get sold,with the stipulations that its yours but by lobbyist law buying peter pudds get the money i spent on a flawed system.thanks for the soapbox:)