It’s Now Illegal To Unlock Your Phone: Top 10 Facts You Need To Know


As of this past weekend, it is now illegal to unlock your phones in the U.S. This means you can no longer intentionally unlock your phone to be used outside of its intended carrier without the appropriate approvals. While some phones may be purchased unlocked, most of them are not. Here are top 10 facts you need to know.


1. This All Started 3 Years Ago With The Digital Millenium Copyright Act.


The DMCA is a law that makes it illegal to disassemble devices so that users can go around certain types of DRM and be granted access to certain material and content protected under copyright laws.

In 2010, The Electronic Frontier Foundation announced three new wins that protected video artists, jailbreakers, and unlockers. Exemptions were legally made to the DMCA that permitted those three things. This past October, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress reviewed those exemptions. Jailbreaking (for iOS users) and rooting (for Android users) were still permitted, however the Library of Congress no longer saw the need to keep unlocking phones exempt due to the ease of obtaining a pre-unlocked phone or getting permission from a carrier to unlock one.

Once the Library of Congress made the decision of the exemption, they provided a 90 day grace period for users to unlock their phones. The grace period has now run out.


2. You Can Read The Law Online.
Just like any other law, you can read the legal text online. In case you don’t want to search through all of the legalese, here a quote specific to phone unlocking:

The Register concluded after a review of the statutory factors that an exemption to the prohibition on circumvention of mobile phone computer programs to permit users to unlock “legacy” phones is both warranted and unlikely to harm the market for such programs. At the same time, in light of carriers’ current unlocking policies and the ready availability of new unlocked phones in the marketplace, the record did not support an exemption for newly 20 purchased phones. Looking to precedents in copyright law, the Register recommended that the class designated by the Librarian include a 90-day transitional period to allow unlocking by those who may acquire phones shortly after the new exemption goes into effect.


3. There Was Probably Some Pretty Hefty Lobbying Going On.


There is no doubt that this exemption far weighs heavily in favor of the carriers. While you may still pay a fee to have your phone unlocked by your carrier once your contract is terminated, it is in the your carrier’s best interest to keep you on their contract. By having their customers unlock their phones and move on to other providers, they can potentially lose millions in perceived revenue.


4. It’s Still Unclear What Happens If You Illegally Unlock Your Phone.


It’s hard to imagine getting a warrant for your arrest if you are caught unlocking your phone. If an unlocking case is elevated to a certain level, carriers now have a defense to move forward with litigation and damages.


5. You Can Sign A Petition To Make Unlocking Phones Legal.


A petition has been created on to make cell phone unlocking legal. Even though the petition has already accumulated about 30,000 signatures, there is still a long way to go in order to reach the goal of 100,000.


6. Legacy Phones Can Still Be Unlocked.


“Legacy” phones that you’ve stashed away and have collected dust are exempt from the new law, so if you have an old phone in your possession, feel free to unlock it to be used on another carrier.


7. Unlocking Phones Is Still Legal If Your Carrier Approves It.

If you’re good at negotiating, you can still try to convince your carrier to unlock your phone. Most likely your carrier will only agree if you are no longer in their contract and you pay a small fee.


8. You Can Buy An iPhone Unlocked.


Apple offers unlocked GSM phones through their online store for about $650 USD. GSM phones can be used with carriers such as AT&T but not with Verizon. On the brightside, Verizon does offer its customers a completely unlocked iPhone compatible with its network for the same price.


9. Google’s Nexus 4 Comes Unlocked For An Unbeatable Price.


Google has been selling its Nexus 4 phones through their Play store for only $299 USD. There are two big catches, however. It’s GSM-only, which means Verizon users are out of luck. The biggest catch is that the phone has been sold out for the past few months due to supply chain issues between LG and Google, and the restocking timeframe still up in the air.


10. Tons Of Unlocked Phones Can Be Found On Ebay, Amazon, Or Craigslist.

It has been known that a myriad of unlocked smartphones can be found on online stores such as Ebay or Amazon. Please beware, though, because there may be just as many fraudulent phones found on those sites as legitimate ones.

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