Yes, you can now be fined big time and even do a stint in jail as a felony
(ABC News) You likely have a cellphone that you bought from a carrier, like AT&T, Verizon or Sprint, and that phone only works on that carrier’s cellular and data network — unless you “unlock” it.
That is a software process that allows the phone to work on other carriers if you put in a new SIM card or want to take the phone to another carrier for service.
If that sounds complicated to you and like something you wouldn’t bother with, then today’s news won’t matter to you. But if that’s something you’ve done before or have thought about doing, then you should know that starting today it is illegal to unlock a subsidized phone or tablet that’s bought through a U.S. carrier.
On one hand, I can agree and understand. The reason you sign a contract is because the carrier is selling you a phone that costs them anywhere from $100 to $400 more than what you pay for it. The contract allows them to recoup that money, which is marginal when it comes to talk plans (hence the reason they push data, text, and accessories for more revenue). Of course, once you have fulfilled the terms of your contract, you should be legally entitled to do whatever you want with the phone. Alas, no.
“Violations of the DMCA [unlocking your phone] may be punished with a civil suit or, if the violation was done for commercial gain, it may be prosecuted as a criminal act,” Brad Shear, a Washington, D.C.-area attorney and blogger who is an expert on social media and technology law, told ABC News. “A carrier may sue for actual damages or for statutory damages.”
The worst-case scenario for an individual or civil offense could be as much as a $2,500 fine. As for those planning to profit off of the act or a criminal offense — such as a cellphone reseller — the fine could be as high as $500,000 and include prison time.
Really, there’s not much going on in terms of switching. You can’t use an AT&T phone on Verizon or Sprint’s network, nor Verizon on Sprint, etc.. Different protocols. But, people may take an AT&T phone to T-Mobile. Or overseas. Or sell it to someone else. What this ruling is saying is that the phone you paid for can never be fully yours.