Starting Saturday, it may be illegal for you to unlock your smartphone in the US

When you buy a smartphone, you usually have to stick with your wireless carrier for the life of that phone. Unlocking the smartphone so it can be used by other wireless carriers has always been frowned upon by those wireless companies in the US. Starting on Saturday, it will also be against the law.

As reports, a new rule in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that was first approved in October will now make it illegal for people who own a locked smartphone to make it unlocked, unless they get permission to do so with their wireless provider.

The new DMCA rule basically says that consumers have a "wide range of alternatives" in terms of buying a phone that's already unlocked.  US citizens have the choice to buy a smartphone that's unlocked already or buy one that is locked to a certain carrier. If they choose the latter, they won't be able to later unlock that phone on their own starting tomorrow.

There is a small exception. If you buy a phone, used or unused, that was previously bought by someone else, you will have the right to unlock that phone from the wireless carrier on your own. International visitors to the US are also free to bring their unlocked smartphones for use in the country.

There's no word yet on what kinds of punishment will be given out if you are caught unlocking a smartphone starting on Saturday.

Smartphone image via Shutterstock

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Agreed, but that's why you're fined if you cancel before the end of the contract. That means they will not lose money. But what you do with your phone is not their business, as long as you pay the bill. If I get a device and want to give it as a gift to someone else and use the plan in my current phone, it's not the carrier business. This law is simply stupid, you're already bound to the carrier by a contract and you will be fined if you cancel it early. Why would they NEED you to to use the exact same device?

There's no word yet on what kinds of punishment will be given out if you are caught unlocking a smartphone starting on Saturday.

Hang them. No pity for the criminals.

Just another situation in which corporate interests go above the interests of the people. Land of the free my butt.

vcfan said,
did you guys know that "jailbreaking" is now considered illegal too?

There is a huge difference between jail breaking and unlock....

So let's encourage people to throw out perfectly good kit - that's a really great idea for the environment. My view is that your contract pays for your handset - and once that's finished (or paid off) what you do with it is entirely your own business.

This is true nonsense. If I purchase the phone out right then I WILL do what I want with it. I travel to South East Asia frequently and have found that the so called roaming fees from North American carriers are truly extravagant. I can have the phone totally unlocked for $10, get a local sim card for $30 for a months worth of unlimited voice and data use. Once back in the US or Canada, I just pop in the local carrier sim card and back to normal. Of course the other solution is to buy the phone in Asia, which are all unlocked.

This actually makes me want to purchase a phone thats unlocked. Now if I could only get the expensive phones I get on contract, to last more than the contract, then I would wait until I had saved enough money to buy an unlocked version. Phone companies are already doing very well on shocking contracts they make us sign, considering the poor service they actually provide. Adding to it might just be the reason needed to change peoples buying habits.

Do they have a phone police that checks if your phone is unlocked? And what penalty would you get? And if on a contract you'd still have to pay even if you unlocked the phone.. Don't you? So this law is bs imho.

More copyright extremism. To me, as long as you're not pirating and cracking or sucking up a lot of unauthorized tethering (basically screwing a company or developer over) you should own the device. But then again this is why I warn people of contracts, and now, I guess locked phones as well. It's like selling your soul to the telecom industry. No changing carriers, no phone uprades, and a limited warranty with a high hidden price tag. And what gets me is the government is worried about perfecting the DMCA when both sides need to be worried about the economy and the war in Afghanistan. I feel like I'm living in the decline of America. I'm a Democrat, but I am sick of almost every politician bending over to lobbying. Appearantly making the world's most overcomplicated and BS infested copyright industry even worse and hurting the consumer is more important than serious issues. And guess what? Issues such as piracy still exist.

Hope that AT&T keep to their policy of unlocking iPhones after 2-year contract is up. That's a really awesome deal to their customers and may actually pull me back to them.

I bought my iPhone 5 unlocked at Walmart . They are financing the phone for 26-months no-interest with a $25/month minimum.

they should have stated that by unlocking it, the weight would go up. that would keep most from even thinking about it

The loophole is if the phone was purchased before the deadline of 1/26/13 it is legal, after that time period then it is illegal.

thejohnnyq said,
The loophole is if the phone was purchased before the deadline of 1/26/13 it is legal, after that time period then it is illegal.

If you consider most carriers already have provisions in their TOS regarding unlocking their phones and provisioning unlocked phones onto their networks, this legislation could at best be a moot point. The carriers are under no legal obligation to permit an unlocked device on their network.

Simple, people in the U.S just have to buy unlocked international smartphones instead if those crapware bundled carrier devices. Seriously, why can't they and carriers use standard devices like the rest of the world.. Oh wait, they think they too special with their locked devices having locked bootloaders, they also probably enjoy their late updates too. Funny how there are so many SIII versions for their xyz carriers when the rest of the world have the i9300/i9305 which are totally unlocked.

pretty much strengthen the believe that DMCA true purpose is:
"To Proctects Companies's Profits against various Profits Infringments"
under disguises of combating:
- Copyright infringment
- Intelectual Property infringment
- Patent Infringment
- Distribution Ingfriment
- First hand sales doctrine
- ... etc ... etc

T-Mobile has Value Plans where you pay unsubsidized prices for the phone, but are still locked in for 2 years. I've already paid for the phone, I'm doing what I want, contract or not.

I have an awesome setup. I pay 5.99 a month to keep my cell alive (in service) 200 talk mins, but I never touch those 200 minutes because I have a Vonage extension on that phone. It bypasses the phone's talk time and instead routs directly to vonage as a carrier. Unlimited data and web is included with the 5.99 plan.

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