Unlocking Phones

Unlocking Your Smartphone? Do It Today While It’s Still Legal

Beginning Saturday, January 26th, it will no longer be legal to unlock a smartphone without the original carrier’s permission.

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know what unlocking a smartphone means, but for those who don’t – unlocking a phone means freeing it from restrictions that would otherwise limit the device to one network.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is intended to help protect copyright holders in the United States from intellectual property theft. It also criminalizes acts of circumventing access control, regardless of copyright infringement. The DMCA has been misused, at least in my opinion, before. But is this new ruling a misuse, or a fair revision?

Unlocking Phone

In late October of 2012 the Librarian of Congress ruled that unauthorized unlocking of phones would not be exempt from the DMCA and therefore illegal. The decision was primarily based on the fact that, due to the constant evolution of the marketplace, there are now many legitimate alternatives available to consumers who might prefer an unlocked device. In other words, if you’re on the hunt for a new unlocked phone, you’re required to buy it from the carrier that way, or purchase it from an independent retailer.

The announcement has mostly caused confusion amongst consumers, most of which are concerned about the legalities surrounding the sale of unlocked devices through marketplaces like Amazon, or Ebay. Selling unlocked devices is still lawful, buying a locked device which is under contract and unlocking it is not. Another common misconception is that ‘unlocking’ is the same as ‘jailbreaking’. Jailbreaking – allowing the use of unapproved software on a manufacturer’s device, has nothing to do with carrier network restrictions. Sigh. It’s really disheartening to see so much misinformation spread across the web, but I suppose it’s an understandable mistake. Jailbreaking smartphones is still legally allowed in the United States and exempt from the DMCA.

Interestingly enough, jailbreaking tablets is illegal. Well that makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m so confused. It isn’t clear yet just how this new law will be enforced. Requests have reportedly been sent to the United States Copyright Office, but they haven’t released specifics just yet.

So what are your thoughts? Is this a fair ruling? Do you think the DMCA has the right to determine who can and cannot unlock their phone? Do you personally have an unlocked device? We aren’t the fuzz, we won’t tell.

Vote and comment below.

Chase Williams

Chase is a serial entrepreneur, electrical engineer, writer, and self-proclaimed techie. He enjoys to travel, hike, kayak, and learn new languages. He's been weightless on-board a NASA C9-B aircraft and his head hasn't quite come back down from the upper atmosphere. To keep up with his low-oxygen chatter, follow him on Twitter @ChaseHWill