The practice of unlocking cellphones without carrier permission so you can use a device with another network will be illegal starting today, Jan. 26.
The new law, which applies to devices purchased from today, came about in October when the Library of Congress’ Register of Copyrights, which determines exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), ruled that unlocking cellphones and tablets without carrier permission should be illegal.
The DMCA is an oft-referenced 1998 bill that, while tightening and specifying certain online and digital copyright laws, also allows for certain exceptions. It is the bill that allows YouTube and other sites to avoid never-ending lawsuits over copyright infringement, so long as they take down infringing materials once notified. The DMCA also makes it illegal to circumvent encryption and protection measures on copyright-protected materials—with exceptions.
The Librarian decided in October 2012 to no longer provide a safe space for third-party phone unlocking tools for phones purchased as new. A 90-day window was provided, so those who bought a new phone could still unlock it however they would like, legally. That window is closed on Jan. 26.
You may be able to get your carrier to unlock your phone, either after a 90-day period or when your contract is up. You might discover the pathways to unlocked phones, already well tread by those who broke their glass-backed iPhone 4 or 4S. Or you might just decide that it’s not worth the hassle and just ask your smartphone carrier how much it costs to replace or upgrade your phone on their schedule, or to travel abroad at their pricing. The rule says this, among other things:
…with respect to new wireless handsets, there are ample alternatives to circumvention. That is, the marketplace has evolved such that there is now a wide array of unlocked phone options available to consumers. While it is true that not every wireless device is available unlocked, and wireless carriers’ unlocking polices are not free from all restrictions, the record clearly demonstrates that there is a wide range of alternatives from which consumers may choose in order to obtain an unlocked wireless phone.
So,how are they going to enforce this “unlocking phones is illegal” thing? Are they gonna track you down if you’re using an unlocked device? We don’t know for sure yet, but it should become clear in the next few weeks.
Currently, this rule is only effective in the U.S.A but other countries are expected to implement similar laws.
What are your thoughts on this decision? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.