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T-Mobile Phone Unlocking Lawsuit May Proceed 116

Posted by Zonk
from the fight-for-your-right-to-unlock dept.
Billosaur writes "Wired is reporting that the California Supreme Court has refused to review two lower court decisions involving a class-action lawsuit against T-Mobile over their policies regarding early termination and phone unlocking. The Court rejected the reviews without comment, opening the door to the lawsuit, which aims to block T-Mobile from collecting a $200 early termination fee from users. Also on the table: an order for T-Mobile to disclose the types of phone-locking technology that may be in use on customer's phones. The ramifications if the lawsuit is successful would be to allow phone users in California to unlock their phones, and might lead to further lawsuits nationwide."
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T-Mobile Phone Unlocking Lawsuit May Proceed

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  • The ramifications if the lawsuit is successful would be to allow phone users in California to unlock their phones,
    What am I missing here? Doesn't the DMCA already make it legal to unlock phones?
    • In short, the DMCA doesn't really apply to contracts.
    • by terraformer (617565) <tpb@pervici.com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:39PM (#20957995) Journal
      No, the copyright office of the USPTO created regulations to clarify what is allowed based on copyright law and this was one of the exceptions. DMCA has nothing to do with this other than the fact that the DMCA (a bill) modified the sections of the federal code (the law) that dictate the regulations that the USPTO can put into place. Based on their regulations, it is in fact not illegal for an individual to unlock a phone.
      • by damsa (840364)
        Copyright office is under the authority of the Library of Congress not USPTO. When correcting someone please get the basic facts straight.
      • What am I missing here? Doesn't the DMCA already make it legal to unlock phones?

        ...it is in fact not illegal for an individual to unlock a phone.

        I think we're in agreement here that it's legal. The lawsuit seems to deal with T-Mobile having to tell it's customers how their phones have been locked, basically helping them unlock them.

        Also, I'm a bit skeptical that it was really the US Patent and Trademark Office's "copyright office" that made these regulations. The US Copyright Office, which is, I assume, is the body which would make these regulations, falls under the Library of Congress.

  • by quanticle (843097) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:06PM (#20957505) Homepage

    Doesn't T-Mobile already allow unlocking at the end of the contract? I've had multiple T-Mobile phones, and they've always allowed you to unlock your old phone once your contract expired.

    • by Zebra_X (13249)
      If you call them, they will unlock your phone for you.

      I have a t-mobile dash and I used a 3rd party unlock. I was surprised to find out when I called them that they would have done it for free.

      Perhaps the charge only applies if you unlock, then terminate.

    • by Longstaff (70353) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:47PM (#20958099)
      T-Mobile will give you the unlock code after you have been a customer for more than 90 days. I have had multiple phones from them over the 5 years I have been a customer and they have unlocked every one as soon as I get it - while in contract or month-to-month. You just have to ask.
      • by hkgroove (791170)
        Or you can just call and say you're going out of the country. Same with AT&T a friend of mine just did this with his iPhone.
        • by dgatwood (11270)

          Huh? I don't think the iPhone even has UI to enter a code to unlock the phone. Am I missing something? Are a whole lot of people missing something?

          • This guy is confused. When you call AT&T and tell them you're going out of the country, you can sign up for some temporary plan while you're over there. To keep from being hit with a bill of OVER NINE-THOUSAND dollars when you get back.
          • by mpe (36238)
            I don't think the iPhone even has UI to enter a code to unlock the phone.

            Hence the need to use "hacks" to unlock this phone.
      • There is a big difference between what marketing promises and what the company actually delivers.

        Since I travel frequently and use local SIMS, I really need an unlocked phone. After the 90 day waiting period, I went through T-Mobile's submission process to get the unlock code. I got an e-mail back saying it was not available from the vendor. I tried calling their support and the only response I could get was to submit again. I submitted 2 more times with the same response.

        I finally gave up and took the

      • Yeah I think all these cell phones companies need to have in their contract that where it states you can break the contract without paying. I think that these companies are making a big profits on us for breaking the contracts.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:49PM (#20958125)

      Doesn't T-Mobile already allow unlocking at the end of the contract? I've had multiple T-Mobile phones, and they've always allowed you to unlock your old phone once your contract expired.

      Warning: incoherent rant ahead...

      In the UK I've had problems with T-Mobile...

      Although my contract has expired, they still refuse to unlock my phone unless I pay them!

      At the point where the eighteen-month contract was due to expire within three days, they informed me that they would be charging me for another month regardless of whether I wanted the line or used it. Now when I call they just redirect me to someone who effectively repeats 'terms and conditions' until one of us hangs-up.

      That was eighteen *long* months, where each month involved being 'overcharged' by upto 100% due to the fine-print in their contract allowing them to basically charge me 50p per minute (including whilst sat listening to hold-music for 17mins, every time) when I called to try to resolve the problems with the (£400) partially-configured non-3G '3G' PDA-phone they sold me that couldn't and still can't receive picture messages; that allows them to exclude most of my calls and texts from the £35/month that I was paying them.

      Now they're attempting to ruin my credit rating by passing my details on to a debt-collection agency to recover the £19 they believe I owe them because I refused to keep paying after my contract had expired.

      Every time I questioned the fairness of their tactics, their response was 'all mobile companies in the UK do it'. Sadly, this may be true, although I've not yet experienced this (yet).

      One of their favourite games is responsibility-tennis, whereby the customer service line staff (read: core company) distances themselves from knowledge-of- and culpability-for the actions of the staff in their stores and vice-versa - the outcome being that there's no way for me to get any kind of satisfaction after being sold a phone which the sales person claimed was 3G but isn't; after the sales person tricked me into taking an expensive contract by telling me that to take the PDA phone I wanted, I must take a particular contract (later revealed to be untrue by customer services); after the sales-person sold me a per-month fixed-price contract which later was revealed to exclude almost all calls/texts made by me.

      This is by far one of the most evil public-facing companies I've had the misfortune to deal with. They are, in effect, organised (really well organised) crime; with a twist, they use the legal system to trick, misdirect and coerce their customers.

      If they were they only mobile company, I'd rather not have a mobile.

      It's particularly frustrating that they're split in to multiple companies; one side-effect being that any class-action suit in the US can't result in UK customers being treated fairly.

      I'm soo tired of living in this climate where companies use every tactic available to them to screw the customer, again and again then use the system to penalise any dissent.

      As a final note at the end of my rant....

      At the end of my contract, they wouldn't unlock my phone because "they're not required to by law" lol. This, to me, is extremely short-sighted behaviour. Don't these companies realise that customers have memories and talk to each other? I'll be quite happy to take reasonable steps to ensure that no more of my money ever reaches them, direcly or indirectly, but that's not quite enough, is it?

      • If it's a Nokia or a Motorola, it's trivially easy to unlock it yourself, and there are LOTS of websites that will show you how (and it's free!).
        • If you can point me to a site or information that shows how it is 'trivially easy' to unlock a Nokia N80 (bb5) for 'free', I'll give you any brand new phone you want, for free, and pay all shipping and handling fees for overnight delivery. Yes, I am serious.
          • by duguk (589689)
            If you're serious, I can get it done for about £21

            If you're offering a free phone, I'll have an iPhone please and I'll pay the £21 myself :P



            Yes, I am serious.

            Dug
      • So maybe next time you'll research your phone before dropping a few hundred bucks on it. And maybe research the plan.

        Buyer beware and all that. It's your responsibility to make sure that you're not getting fucked over.
      • by ms139us (723585)
        My experience with T-Mobile in the U.S. has been nothing short of golden.

        I bought my own phone, a Nokia 9500, imported from some middle-eastern country (I can't read the squiggles in the owner's guide). However, I signed a T-Mobile contract, got my SIM card and have been thrilled.

        Some time ago, GPRS quit working. I called TM and reported the outage. They asked, "which phone do you have?"

        I bristled, knowing that telling them I had a non-TM phone would result in them telling me that it's my phone'
      • In Slashdot postings regarding other consumer issues in the UK, I have seen references to Trading Standards [wikipedia.org]. Further, said postings seemed to indicate that Trading Standards actually has some weight. Would Trading Standards be useful in this situation?

      • Four things you should consider doing:

        1. Before you do anything else, talk to to the Trading Standards office that covers the area where the store that you bought the phone from. If you've been missold the phone or the contract, if the goods do not match the description that you were given initially, then you have a case and they may be able to get you a resolution with the store without having to go further.

        2. If they can't help you, then speak to the Citizen's Advice Bureau. Between them, these two organi
    • by Ecuador (740021)
      Not only after the end of your contract. After a couple of months from the start of my contract, I called T-Mobile, as other people told me, and just asked for my phone to be unlocked, so that I could use a European SIM when I travel. No problem.
      Why not go after the other guys (call me AT&T) that never unlock the phone you paid for.

      Now, as for the termination fee, do people realize that the phones they get are heavily subsidised? Except for the iPhone, every other phone you buy you can get it either for
  • Termination Fee? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by photomonkey (987563) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:07PM (#20957519)

    What does unlocking a phone have to do with terminating a cellular contract?

    I'd love to see locked phones AND cell termination fees go the way of the dodo, but this seems like an "I don't like the terms of teh service I signed up for, so I'm suing" suit.

    In theory, if we could buy unlocked phones more easily, we could then choose whatever carrier we want, adn would probably be less likely to pay the cancellation fee.

    • Because in the absence of locking and contracts, there's no financial incentive for the carriers to subsidize the selling price of the phone.
      • It just gets hidden in the cost of the service and spread out over the term of the contract.

        Unless you think the phone companies eat the cost of subsidizing the phones...
      • by timeOday (582209)
        Paying as little as MSRP would probably be a huge discount over "financing" it through a calling plan, if you knew what you were paying.

        Cellphones aren't all that precious anymore. My wife recently got a tracphone (which has no contract) and went for the $30 model [tracfone-orders.com] - which I guess is splurging, since they have another one for $15. Her $30 phone certainly does look cheap (almost like the fake toy cellphones they make for little kids), but it works just fine.

        All that buying cellphones upfront would do is

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Chosen Reject (842143)
        Do I want to play MSRP for phones? Of course I do. Does that sound silly to you? Probably, so I'll explain. Let's suppose we live in a world where cell phone contracts and phone locking didn't exist. You say that there would then be no incentive for the carriers to subsidize the cost of the phone. This is true, but then, they would have no need to. A cell phone manufacturer would then need to make their phone affordable to consumers. Right now, if I was Samsung/Motorola/etc. I would be jacking the p
        • by petehead (1041740)

          Let's suppose we live in a world where cell phone contracts and phone locking didn't exist. You say that there would then be no incentive for the carriers to subsidize the cost of the phone. This is true, but then, they would have no need to. A cell phone manufacturer would then need to make their phone affordable to consumers.

          I believe that I have seen this strange world before. In this world, telephones have wires coming out of them and they plug into the wall. Seriously, we have to believe that this will come eventually, but the phone companies will fight it tooth and nail.

        • by duranaki (776224)
          I actually did pay MSRP for my phone. I wanted a better model and didn't want to adjust my contract (which I'm eagerly awaiting an end to.)

          Ignoring handset cost issues, subsidies allow phone operators to control the phones they will and won't subsidize, meaning they get to strong arm manufacturers into crippling features they don't like or that compete with other revenue streams, or force them to implement features with goofy restrictions to force uses to pay money for things that ought to be free. Some

        • by Moridin42 (219670)
          And yet option 2, to actually work, requires a critical mass of users that are perfectly willing to go without cell service at all rather than not receive discounted service when using a paid-for phone.

          Right now, the choice is between owning a locked phone that was acquired cheaply, paying some month rate, or owning an unlocked phone acquired at high cost, paying the exact same monthly rate. Means the optimal choice, under current conditions, is to always change carriers at the end of your contract. At leas
        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          "At the risk of starting an offtopic flamewar about medical insurance, the same thing is occuring there. When insurance covers you such that you only pay a $25 copay to see a doctor, you are shielded from the doctor charging you $500 for your 30 minute visit."

          Geez...what Dr. do you see? I pay my own (no insurance) Dr...and it is approx. $90/office visit. Where do you pay $500/visit???

          • The last time I took my daughter in for vaccinations it came out to be nearly $750 for all the shots.
            • Don't get vaccinations at your doctor's office, then. Get them at your county health department, where you'll wait a bit, but the vaccines are typically $5-10 apiece. Doesn't change the fact that an office visit for an adult is typically around $100, nor the fact that many will be willing to negotiate lower rates with you in advance if you tell them you will be paying cash up front.
      • 2 things bug me with the "termination fee". If its because they are subsidizing the contract, shouldn't the amount go down as the contract progresses? ie, if they discount $240 of the cost of the phone, with a 2 year contract, then after 1 year, should not the fee be $120 for leaving? Also, if you walk in with your own phone, you pay the same rate as someone with a "subsidized" phone. I would much rather they split the bill apart, ie, $30/month + $5/month for the phone usage..
    • In theory, if we could buy unlocked phones more easily, we could then choose whatever carrier we want, adn would probably be less likely to pay the cancellation fee.

      What, like from Motorola's MotoStore [motorola.com], Nokia [nokiausa.com] (a little more problematic, but there seems to be some), Samsung (Open/Generic GSM [samsung.com], Open/Generic CMDA [samsung.com] - ok, so there's no CDMA ones; they still list 'em as a possible). I'm sure other phone manufacturers have them too.

      So...I guess the less is - go with a GSM carrier so you can get unlocked (open/Ge

  • by berashith (222128) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:10PM (#20957569)
    and I hope they lose.

    My phone has all kinds of interesting features, that are locked out. The phone could do these things, but tmobile places false restrictions on the features. Why does the network access break when a java app is activated? ... because then they couldn't nail me for the full internet plan while I check email.

    By the time I learned about the feature locks (and the + $50 it would cost to turn them on) I was already in the contract. I tried flashing the phone, but magically got bounced from the net until it got flashed back. The phone connected for a time, so I had not removed something to allow connections.
  • by lysacor (237887) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:12PM (#20957597) Homepage
    I have a T-Mobile MDA, and they had absolutely no problem unlocking the phone for me prior to me making an international trip so I could use a competing network. I don't understand why some of these people are trying to sue for that, T-Mobile is going to have some much evidence to the contrary that their case will likely be found without merit (IANAL).

    As far as the 200 dollar disconnect fee, I don't agree with that with any carrier, and some use it as a bludgeoning stick to keep people continuing their service under the threat of "breach of contract".

    Cellular service should be something someone can walk into, pay their bill, and walk out of without any fear of reprisal as long as they paid their bills in full.

    -The Cake is a Lie!
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by bostons1337 (1025584)
      I am going to have to disagree with your opinion against early termination fees. Ya they suck, trust me the last thing I want to do is dish out $200 for leaving a service. However you signed the contract and therefore agreed to it. If people could walk in and out of phone services whenever they pleased the phone companies would be hurt real bad financially. Who cares you might say? That means higher monthly fees on average and forget about getting any kind of deal on phones they provide like the get this ph
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Chosen Reject (842143)
        Holy shallow-view, Batman! Do you really think the cell phone company is eating the cost of your phone? Do you honestly believe that you don't pay an extra penny or more per month to help pay for your phone? Do you honestly think that if you could walk away from a lousy company to go to another that the first company wouldn't try to improve, either through better service or lower prices? Do you really think that phone manufacturers aren't already raising the prices of their phones knowing that the cell
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jriding (1076733)
        I disagree with this. Look at the land line phone companies. I can get the local provider and have it for 3 months and decide to change it to my local "cable" provider and not have an early cancellation fee. If you have done this then you notice that as soon as someone comes out with a better cheaper deal you switch. Or your provider comes out with a competitive service.. No extra costs are sent to the individuals because of incurred costs. This is something every provider states but in area's where there i
      • by lysacor (237887)
        I respect your opinion on the matter, and I do agree that others do not undertake the research necessary before signing cellular contracts. I for one do read the contracts line for line, and have the cellular agent (usually a retailer) provide me a second and a third copy of the contract to ensure that I always have a copy of the original terms of my service on hand.

        The phone companies in the US honestly wouldn't hurt as bad as we think without 200 term fee. I could be wrong, but considering the relative
    • As far as the 200 dollar disconnect fee, I don't agree with that with any carrier, and some use it as a bludgeoning stick to keep people continuing their service under the threat of "breach of contract".

      The termination itself isn't a bad thing - you agree to it when you sign up. What I find particularly annoying is this (AT&T): when you are six months away from the end of your new contract, you become "eligible" to upgrade your phone - and at a great discount, of course. It just so happens that to receive that discount, you need to sign up for /another/ two year plan.

      By itself, that's a little sleazy but not unreasonable. It's not like they make it a secret. WHat makes it fairly despicable, th

      • by DarkOx (621550)
        It makes perfect sense and its not entirely unfair. They have set up the business model such that you essentially getting the phone on credit and paying for it by paying a more then they otherwise would charge for the service each month. If you want to leave you have to pay off the loan.

        What's unfair is,

        1. They don't give you much of a price break if you do own your phone or pay full price for it.

        2. The early termination fee is not discounted in anyway over time, they charge the same if you cancel a day e
  • High time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sufijazz (889247) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:14PM (#20957643)
    It's high time the American mobile phone market is made more open and interoperable.

    In GSM-dominated countries, swapping phone service has got nothing to do with your mobile phone. You just remove your SIM-card and put in another one. Conversely, when you buy a new phone, you just put your old SIM card in it and you're done.

    The rationale for a termination fee is usually that handsets are subsidized. But a better solution is for the FCC to open up the industry so that there is a separate market for mobile handsets. This will give customers more options to buy handsets that they know will work with any carrier, and competition in the mobile handset market will bring prices down.

    Carriers can still offer subsidies on handsets with contract termination restrictions - but users will then opt for it willingly - ignoring the option of other available handsets.
    • Sorry this isn't true - Not in the UK anyway.
      I have been on 02, t-mobile and Orange networks.
      ALL have locked handsets to their networks, ALL wanted money to unlock even after the contract period was
      up.
      The latest of these was Orange two nights ago who wanted £20 to unlock a k800i after 14 months on a 12 month contract.

      The DaVinci boys are gonna get my money instead...

      • by mpe (36238)
        ALL have locked handsets to their networks, ALL wanted money to unlock even after the contract period was up. The latest of these was Orange two nights ago who wanted £20 to unlock a k800i after 14 months on a 12 month contract.

        Even at current exchange rates the US T-Mobile fee is closer to £100 though.

        The DaVinci boys are gonna get my money instead...

        Exactly there are other alternatives, which does not appear to be the case in the US.
  • Hmmm, I have always had success getting t-mobile to provide a free unlock code, AT&T as well. AFAIK both companies have a policy of providing unlock codes for free after 90 days service. Just call customer service. The 90 days is reasonable IMHO so people don't rip them off with the contract discounts. Never had a problem doing this to probably 5 or more phones now...
  • by DECS (891519) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:19PM (#20957731) Homepage Journal
    This is kind of stupid. Even if all the major US carriers were prevented from locking phones to their network, it would only open the market between T-Mobile and AT&T, and separately between Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Both use totally different networks (GSM vs CDMA2000), so nothing would be open.

    Further, as 3G rolls out, T-Mobile and AT&T's versions of UTMS totally incompatible, meaning that their next generation of phone will be naturally locked to a single provider. They didn't do that on purpose, there just isn't available bandwidth in the US to share the same band.

    The real solution--rather than enriching attorneys to raise frivolous lawsuits that won't accomplish anything--is to open up the TV spectrum and insist that it actually be open, as Google has been pushing for. That would rapidly obsolesce the existing mobile networks however, leaving them open for replacement as well. Verizon/Sprint/AT&T have spent billions building out old fashioned 2.5/3G mobile service, and aren't excited about the prospect of having it all thrown in the trash can.

    How AT&T Picked Up the iPhone: A Brief History of Mobiles [roughlydrafted.com]

    • by techpawn (969834)
      This is why Two different versions of the Blackberry Pearl had to be released. One for CDMA and one for GSM and even if you where able to get them unlocked I don't think it would be possible to take your AT&T Pearl to VZW and get it activated to their network.
      • No, it's different. Verizon and AT&T run completely different network protocols (CDMA and GSM, respectively). With T-Mobile and AT&T moving to UTMS for higher wireless speeds, it's the same protocol, but the frequencies used by both companies are in completely different bands.

        In the future, it may not matter (just as there are quad-band GSM phones now, so they work anywhere), but in the beginning, you'll probably be tied to one carrier or the other, simply because of the slice of frequencies they

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)
      Heh, I wondered where you've been. You guys have been sparse in all those threads about Apple screwing over the jailbreakers and unlockers and whatnot.

      So that's the new spin to cover Apple's sin? Unlocking doesn't matter because of technology fragmentation?

      God forbid people learn that there is no natural reason for them buy their phone from the same people selling the service. It's not like that might influence the direction of the carriers, if the neutrality of GSM caused people to resist the change to 3G.
      • by DECS (891519)
        Then you'll enjoy my disassembly of Microsoft Shill Mike Elgan:

        Arrogance Unleashed: The Foul Stench of Computerworld's Mike Elgan [roughlydrafted.com], where I point out not only the buffoonery of Elgan, but also the simpleton arguments that claim Apple has "bricked" phones and persecuted iPhone users by offering a security and feature update.

        "While the philosophical debate over whether Apple should open the iPhone to third party development is interesting, the underlying technical grounds for disabling third party software can
    • by sufijazz (889247)

      it would only open the market between T-Mobile and AT&T, and separately between Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Both use totally different networks (GSM vs CDMA2000), so nothing would be open.
      This is not true. Infact this is the perfect market opportunity for Dual mode phones [wikipedia.org].
    • by dgatwood (11270)

      This is kind of stupid. Even if all the major US carriers were prevented from locking phones to their network, it would only open the market between T-Mobile and AT&T, and separately between Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Both use totally different networks (GSM vs CDMA2000), so nothing would be open.

      Not true. There are dozens of MVNOs that use each of these technologies within the U.S. In addition, for GSM phones, unlocked phones can be used with local SIM cards when traveling to Europe, Canada, Mex

  • profit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    1.) Sign long term contract
    2.) Get free phone
    3.) Cancel long term contract without paying termination fee
    4.) Sell unlocked phone
    5.) Profit
  • And Apple's world headquarters is located where?
  • One solution to the entire unlocking business is to buy an unbranded phone from the start. While one pays a premium for the phone, none of the features are locked by the carrier and one is free to use the phone overseas.

    Of course it's more difficult to buy unbranded CDMA phones, but it's probably possible.

  • Locking a phone that has been purchased in full then terminating a users account and charging them "again" must be the most anti-capitalist/competitive thing ever thought up. I would put this on par with Dell cutting a deal with Microsoft then forcing its users to only be able to visit set websites that have huge markups on common services and if the user decides to use swap to lets say an Apple setup they get charged to do so even though they own the hardware. Oh look I used Apple and anti-competitive in t
  • that At&T's board members have probably approached T-Mobil with advice or other background resources to help them win in court.

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