Why it is Now Illegal to Unlock Your Phone

Why it is Now Illegal to Unlock Your Phone

Last January 26, 2013, the new ruling issued by the Librarian of Congress is finally imposed. Now, unlocking a phone subsidized by your carrier is now illegal and would be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Unlock Your Phones Illegal

This new rule has wrought confusion and anger from a lot of consumers. Why would this rule be in play when customers are supposed to own the phones? Isn’t this curtailing consumer’s right to choose?

To get the gist of this new rule, here are some of the bases of the Librarians for this new rule:

Availability of Smartphones

The new rule issued last October was based on a couple of things. The first is that, according to the Librarian, there are now a lot more avenues consumers can pursue to get an unlocked phone. There are retailers like Best Buy that offer a variety of unlocked phones. Even Apple and its partners like Verizon are offering the iPhone 5 unlocked. T-Mobile is also an advocate of unlocked phones and will be offering more unlocked devices in the future.

In short, if you do not want unlocked phone, do not get a subsidized phone that is locked to a certain carrier. The ones who will really be affected are the world travelers. Say you are going to Europe for a business trip, instead of buying a new phone, you can simply insert a prepaid sim to your business phone and you are ready to go.

With the new ruling, you would have to ask permission from your carrier to unlock your phone for travel and they will have to be the one to do it for you. That can be a lot of trouble just to get your phone working in another country.

Ownership vs. Licensing

Another basis of the new rule is that the interpretation of the law has changed because of new court decisions. This is probably the more important basis of the new rule. In the decision of the case Vernor vs. Autodesk, Inc. by the Ninth District Court in 2010, it was established that we, the cellphone owners, do not actually own the software running in our phones. Instead, we are instead just it so we do not have the legal right to alter it. Think Windows or Microsoft Office. We only get licensing rights to use their software but we do not actually own it. It’s the same case with the software running in our phones.

Fortunately, jailbreaking your phone is still allowed in the current rules. But with the current trend, I will not be surprised if a new ruling comes out three years later saying that it is also illegal.

Right now, the enforcement of the new rule is still pretty unclear. How they will detect illegally unlocked phones was vague and the consequences for doing so were not specified.

What is clear, however, is that the major carriers just got a solid legal backing to go after consumers who unlock phones without their permission.


  1. says

    I wonder why jailbreaking is not illegal and unlocking is illegal, jailbreaking seems to be more of an illegal act than unlocking as Cydia is involved which is earning money illegally

  2. Agrodut Mandal says

    I am finding some softwares for my new Nokia mobile. It is Asha 311. I searched a lot for mazelock, skype, fring softwares but didn’t find them. I need to lock my mobile with mazelock because It seems too good to lock or unlock mobile just with some clicks.

  3. says

    People buy phones from USA and bring them to India and they try to unlock it. But it’s not possible to unlock a iPhone that comes from USA. But if you buy phone from UK or Canada it can be unlocked easily. I don’t know what’s the reason behind it.

  4. says

    This is really BS!

    I do work with electronics, both in RF, digital and analogue. I have more than 10 years of experience on this field.. and so i think i am cleared to talk about this.

    There are several ways to unlock a phone.. one of them is just to bypass the lock “address” and therefore the phone, although thinking it is locked.. it is not (you are not changing the firmware.. just bypassing it with a 20 micron external device). Other way is to change the flash memory address that contains the lock itself.. and remove it or to make it less “restricted” (because some address are encrypted this might,or might not,be considered as illegal.. it just depends on the point of view.. because it can just simple be looked at as flipping a switch that it is already there). BUT.. all phones can be unlocked by a special code that is typed in the keyboard (apple is done a little differently but can also be unlocked this way).. a factory unlock (this changes the firmware at no point at all.. it is a feature that the firmware itself has)!

    These laws are meant to evolve to other things that WILL restrict you and WILL damage your privacy rights, that, in time, you will no longer have. Imagine this.. you have purchased a phone, a used phone, so.. you don’t have any clue if the phone was unlocked by code, box or whatever.. and technically you are a assessor to a crime (breaking the law for not-knowing is still punishable by law in any democratic country). Your phone can be under surveillance, and your friend’s phone too.. because.. even if his phone is legal.. yours is not and therefore since you two do call yourselves on the phone from time to time.. then the surveillance warrant extends to your friend as well… and his friends.. etc. See the point? You no longer be able to say that you are not being monitored.. because if “they” want.. they can just simply do that “legally” under the DMCA.

    I am not American.. but i do realize that this is not for your advantage at all.

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