Hooray, We’re Saved From Evil People Who Unlock Their Mobile Phones

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.

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16 Responses to “Hooray, We’re Saved From Evil People Who Unlock Their Mobile Phones”

  1. […] at Pirate’s Cove is blogging about “Hooray, We’re Saved From Evil People Who Unlock Their Mobile Phones”. Go check it […]

  2. Gumball_Brains says:

    Am sure GC is fully in favor of this.

    The other point of unlocking which is not mentioned, is to install a different more efficient operating system.

    But, our society does seem to be moving toward a possession-less one. Already, we’ve lost our true right to own land as any government can take it from us at any time. And now, most everything we buy carries a “disclaimer” on ownership.

  3. gitarcarver says:

    No Gumball, I am not in favor of this.

    To be the same as another post, the carriers here would be the same as the woman who believes she has the right to tell others what they can or cannot do with their property.

    You support the property owner here but not in the other post.

    I support the property owner in both cases.

  4. Once the contract is fulfilled, I am all in support of saying that the phone is the complete property of the purchaser, who can unlock if they want.

  5. gitarcarver says:


    I agree. The DCMA was designed to protect intellectual property The phone is not being jail broken to protect its copyrighted secrets.

    Once it belongs to the person, they can do with it as they will.

  6. Gumball_Brains says:

    The phone is not being jail broken to protect its copyrighted secrets.

    Now you’re being incoherent instead of just ludicrous.

    Jail breaking a phone adds features and increases security. It’s primary intent is not to switch carriers. Jail breaking is carrier independent so it doesn’t make much sense to switch carriers afterwards.

    DMCA had nothing to do with phones and carriers. Jailbreaking has nothing to do with trying to get at, or alter, or steal, the carrier’s OS. Jailbreaking erases the original OS and adds an open-source OS.

    From this link, we see:

    ‘You should be able to unlock your phone. This law [DMCA] was meant to combat copyright infringement, not to prevent people to do what they want to do with the device they bought.’

    So, we are now going to face prison time?
    This was a new law passed by a non-elected body – the Copyright Office. Laws are to be passed by Congress, not by the EPA or any other office.

    But now, we have faceless unelected bureaucrats making laws on their own. Freely.

  7. gitarcarver says:

    Geez Gumball, first you say my statement is “incoherent” and then not only agree to the statement, but cite an article that says the same thing.

    And for the record, this is not a new law as you contend. It us a bad decision under the law, but it is not a new law.

  8. Gumball_Brains says:

    The fact that you believe that proves my point about you.

  9. gitarcarver says:

    The fact you hold onto fallacies despite facts proves what I know about you.

  10. Gumball_Brains says:

    FACTS?!?!?!!? bwwaaahahahahaa
    Yeah, I’d rather have my freedom-based facts instead of your pro-big-government anti-personal liberty idea of facts.

  11. gitarcarver says:

    You have no “facts” Gumball. Just as in the other post, you continue to argue out of ignorance.

    For those who really care, it has always been illegal to “jailbreak” phones. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (USC 17, section 1201) makes it illegal to alter the programming that comes with any device without the approval of the copyright holder. “Jailbreaking,” whether it be to eliminate “tethering,” to increase functionality of the OS, or to “root” the device with other programming (such as a different operating system) is illegal under the DMCA.

    The DMCA allows for “exceptions.” The law lists the rules guiding those exceptions and appoints the Library of Congress to administer the exceptions and to rule on any application for an exception.

    Last year Consumer’s Union and Metro PCS applied for an exception to allow jailbreaking of cell phones for any of the purposes previously stated. (The application alone shows jailbreaking was already illegal under the law, and not a decision by an unelected bureaucrat as someone here has postulated. It is interesting to note the application was based on the idea that no copyrighted information was infringed in jailbreaking, which is what was said earlier.)

    In October, the LOC decided not to grant the exception for jailbreaking.

    However, in their decision the LOC gave an “amnesty” of sorts for 90 days saying the practice was so widespread it would be impossible to look back. That 90 day period has now expired which is the basis of Teach’s original post.

    It is a horrible decision. “Jailbreaking” does not infringe on the copyright or the intellectual property of anyone. As the intent of the DMCA is to protect copyrights and intellectual property, “jailbreaking” should be an exception.

    Alas, under the original law passed by Congress covers jailbreaking and makes it illegal.

    This ruling is highly flawed, but it is not the result of some “un-elected bureaucrat” making a new law.

  12. Brian says:

    C’monm you guys are friends. Knock off the petty squabbling before one of you says something mean that you will regret.

  13. Brian says:

    > C’mon, < argh!!!

    Did I mention yet today thar I hare this freaking computer and especially its freaking keyboard?

  14. Brian says:


    Thar’s hate, not har!!!

  15. Brian says:

    The f*cking sun is in my eyes at this time of day.

  16. Gumball_Brains says:

    hahahaa.. thought you were referring to fur of rabbits there for a bit…. … … …
    “har of a hare”

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