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Cellphones United States Your Rights Online

Unlocking New Mobile Phones Becomes Illegal In the US Tomorrow 475

Posted by Soulskill
from the who-owns-your-stuff dept.
Tyketto writes "Referencing a decision outlined in the Federal Register, Tech News Daily has published an article noting that the window to unlock your new mobile phone in the U.S. is closing. 'In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking mobile phones would no longer be allowed. But the library provided a 90-day window during which people could still buy a phone and unlock it. That window closes on January 26.' While this doesn't apply to phones purchased before the window closes, this means that after 1/26/13, for any new mobile phone you purchase, you'll have to fulfill your contract, or break the law to unlock it." It will still be perfectly legal to purchase an unlocked phone, which many carriers offer. This change removes the exemption for buying a new phone under contract (and thus, at a discount) and then unlocking it.
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Unlocking New Mobile Phones Becomes Illegal In the US Tomorrow

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2013 @10:48AM (#42690485)

    Free market economics: a system in which megacorps unable to buy each other out and establish an outright monopoly collude to keep prices high and avoid full-scale competition that might drive one or more out of business, and use their unholy profit margins to influence laws and regulations that benefit their business interests.

  • You are free to purchase the handset, sans carrier lock in, for a lump sum.

    Then how do Boost, Virgin, and other U.S. prepaid carriers get away with up-front sales of phones that are still locked to the carrier?

    Go get yourself a 0% interest credit card and buy the handset outright. It will be cheaper than paying contract fees

    Not on some U.S. carriers, who don't give a discount on monthly service for buying your phone up front.

  • by tuppe666 (904118) on Friday January 25, 2013 @10:51AM (#42690511)

    I own my iPhone

    No no you don't. Aooke have pretty much been anti-consumer for some time with EFF and others trying to keep the option of jailbreaking legal (Its still illegal on your iPad)

    This is back from 2010 http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/feds-ok-iphone-jailbreaking/ [wired.com] The PDF about Apples responce and basically jailbreaking does this,

    "Crashes & instability
    Malfunctioning & safety
    Invasion of privacy
    Exposing children to age-inappropriate content
    Viruses & malware
    Inability to update software
    Cellular network impact
    Piracy of developers’ applications
    Instability of developers’ applications
    Increased support burden
    Developer relationships
    The Apple/iPhone brand
    Limitation on ability to innovate"

    It also says your breaking Licence agreements and copyright infringement too as well as well as DMCA anti-circumvention

    Boycott Apple products...Its not like there are mass of better value alternatives.

  • by torkus (1133985) on Friday January 25, 2013 @10:52AM (#42690531)

    This has NOTHING to do with free market economics. This is about a poorly written group of laws (DMCA) being used to manipulate a market and prevent you from using something you purchased in a way you want. It impedes first-sale doctrine.

    Excluding T-Mobile, all major US carriers include in their monthly pricing the cost to subsidize your phone. So, while TMO has a cheaper monthly plan if you don't get a contract phone...no one else does. In addition, it isn't always the case that you're free to purchase an unlocked version from the carrier.

    Our lawmakers need to get their collective heads out of their nether regions and wake up to the reality of the world today. This just brings back yet another pointless, unenforced, and ignored set of restrictions.

  • we the people? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by v1 (525388) on Friday January 25, 2013 @10:58AM (#42690611) Homepage Journal

    I'm surprised this issue hasn't been tossed out onto a We the People petition?

    Although recently we've seen a few of those used for stupid things (death star) as well as being flat out trampled on a few times with responses that basically said "we don't feel like telling you that", it would still be nice to see it out there.

  • by MBGMorden (803437) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:00AM (#42690635)

    What would be more fair is if they set an actual fair rate for the "no contract" price. They basically jack up the prices heavily on the no contract phones to try and force you to the subsidized ones.

    Google's Nexus 4 is unlocked and sold for $299, yet Verizon essentially wants $150-200 for "subsidized" versions of the similar level phones or $500-600 for no contract versions.

  • by Enry (630) <.enry. .at. .wayga.net.> on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:04AM (#42690673) Journal

    There's nothing preventing you from buying a phone at the unsubsidized price and then modifying it. You're making a deal with the cell phone provider: You agree that you'll honor the contract you signed, and they give you a phone at a discount. Hopefully this is going to be a bit easier over time as everyones moves to LTE (does this mean that CDMA finally bites the dust?) and phones become standardized like the rest of the civilized world.

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:04AM (#42690675)

    Excluding T-Mobile, all major US carriers include in their monthly pricing the cost to subsidize your phone. So, while TMO has a cheaper monthly plan if you don't get a contract phone...no one else does. In addition, it isn't always the case that you're free to purchase an unlocked version from the carrier.

    So switch to T-Mobile. Everyone switch to T-Mobile, and I guarantee the other carriers will shit bricks and change their policies within days. Too bad we're all too sicked in to buying the latest HTSamsiPhoLGoogAndroid phone to tell "the man" to go fuck his contract terms, and his bought laws.

    Our money buys these laws. Stop giving them your money.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:07AM (#42690713) Homepage

    Quite. This isn't about "free market economics". This is about personal property rights being eroded to the benefit of large corporations. This isn't even an example of a bad contract. At least those have some basis to be defended by "libertarians".

    This is a statute bought and paid for by industry that interferes with YOUR basic civil liberties.

    Since it's property, it's even MORE fundemental a right from an economic perspective than something like free speech.

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:12AM (#42690795) Homepage Journal

    This is just another case of government stealing individual liberties from people. It's your phone, whether they like it or not. How is it a GOVERNMENT issue, why is the government able to STEAL individual liberties from people to sell that power that gives control over these liberties to the highest bidder?

    That's the problem - government has destroyed your individual liberties, it is tyranny, and this is just a small example of it.

    Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 y.o. Tunisian who burned himself alive because of government oppression, he became the trigger for the people removing the oppressive tyrannical government from power.

    Aaron Schwartz was a 26 y.o. American who killed himself because of government oppression, where are all the people with guns, you have the 2nd amendment, you have more guns than Tunisians, you are SUPPOSED to remove tyrannical oppressive regime from power, what is going on?

  • by pla (258480) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:14AM (#42690811) Journal
    do you really need every point update of android? what does it give you?

    Wrong question. Try "Should anyone but me get to decide which updates I need?". Then we can at least start that discussion (not the same one in TFA, BTW) in a meaningful way.


    As for the "real" topic from TFA - Should I have the right, if I visit the UK this summer, to put in a local prepaid SIM card (legally obtained and paid for - They actually have sane rules over there about this stuff, and you can buy minutes for a pittance) so I can use my own phone without paying my normal carrier their insane international roaming fees? Keep in mind that my carrier still gets paid their normal monthly contract fee (the one they agreed to when they subsidized my phone up front) during my vacation, and they don't even need to route calls for me during that time.

    I would tend to say "yes, I damned well should". But then, I wouldn't buy a locked phone in the first place.
  • by HateBreeder (656491) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:23AM (#42690925)

    Why is this a special case and needs a special law? Why is the contract you sign insufficient?

    Why do they need to make it illegal to unlock a phone, rather than keeping it completely within contract law?

    Do you realize how insane a situation it's going to be where a phone company can ask the police to arrest you because you have unlocked your phone?

    I agree - they should be able to sue you in a civil court - like any other company would do if you brake any other contract! not sure why this is a special case.

  • by colin_young (902826) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:24AM (#42690937)

    Not just joining a new carrier. I'm an e.g. T-Mobile subscriber, and I'm traveling to e.g. Canada. I'd like to use a local account while I'm in Canada so I'm not paying the international roaming charges (0.59/minute voice, $10/MB data). So I'd like to temporarily swap SIMs. I still plan to honor my contract with T-Mobile.

    As an example of charges, it would cost over $10 just to view the page (http://www.t-mobile.com/international/roamingoverview.aspx?tp=Inl_Tab_RoamWorldwide) that tells you how much you'll be charged, and that's just for that single page. It doesn't account for the navigation it took to get there.

    There are perfectly legitimate reasons to unlock your cellphone. It is a matter that should be covered under contract law, not criminal law.

  • by pla (258480) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:26AM (#42690961) Journal
    The firmware of a mobile phone is covered by copyright law.

    To which the manufacturer, not the carrier, holds the copyright. But okay so far...


    In order to unlock the phone, either an official lock code is required (which may be obtained unofficially, and whose legal status if obtained unofficially is dubious) or the firmware needs to be replaced

    If I replace the firmware, then the phone no longer contains the original copyrighted code. This seems like a self-correcting "problem".

    That said, the new firmware most likely just contains a slightly modified version of the original, so back to copyright violation; but if someone actually wrote a clean-room implementation, the DMCA should no longer apply.

    Realistically, of course, none of this matters. As they've always done, the government will just use this as yet another selective enforcement tool to fuck over anyone they want to go after while happily ignoring the vast majority of violations.
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:49AM (#42691207) Journal

    True. By extension, my house isn't truly mine until I pay off the mortgage. Does this mean I can't make any changes to it?

  • by HateBreeder (656491) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:00PM (#42691321)

    Why should they? There are many reasons to unlock your phone that don't amount to exiting your contract early.

    If the contract you signed specifically prohibits you from unlocking your phone, then they will be within their rights to sue you.

    I'm not suggesting they should be given any additional rights (which are not specified in the contract that you agreed upon in advance).

    Personally, I only get full priced unlocked phones. I then get a no-contract SIM card.
    Admittedly, it's much more affordable in the UK than in the US.

  • by KingMotley (944240) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:06PM (#42691433) Journal

    True. By extension, my house isn't truly mine until I pay off the mortgage. Does this mean I can't make any changes to it?

    Some, but not all, no. There are restrictions on what you can do with a mortgaged house. For example, you can't just tear it down because you feel like it if it's mortgaged. Nor can you make any changes that would intentionally depreciate the value of the house. You also can't sell it without paying off the mortgage. You also have to insure the house. I'm sure there are other restrictions, but yes, it's not the same as owning the house outright.

  • by Applekid (993327) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:09PM (#42691485)

    the subsidized handset business models of the US carriers are viable, just not universally popular. There's a difference.

    I disagree. They are very popular to the typical US consumer, who doesn't want to pay more than a couple bucks for a new shiny phone in their hands.

    If it wasn't popular, then the business model wouldn't be viable, because no one in their right might would voluntarily chain themselves to a carrier for years knowing that plan pricing, internet caps, speed throttling, and terms of usage are continually shifting and subject to change without notice, approval, or even the threat of class action from the affected.

  • by AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:17PM (#42691627)

    It is not necessarily a matter of fulfilling the contract for example:

    I am an ATT customer and have been for 10 years. I get a new phone periodically which starts a new commitment, no problem. I pay my monthly bill fulfilling my part of the contract, again no problem.

    I travel overseas frequently and wish to purchase a local SIM to communicate with my local business partners. Now, according to this ruling, it is illegal for me to unlock my phone to use the local, problem.

    ATT, before Cingular bought them, had no problem with unlocking my phone as I was a long time customer now I have to purchase a second phone to use while overseas, problem.

    Now if ATT gave me a price break for bringing my own phone instead of using a subsidized phone I could understand their reluctance to unlock my phone but considering I am a long term customer... Maybe time to not be a customer...

  • by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:18PM (#42691643) Homepage

    >> the subsidized handset business models of the US carriers are viable, just not universally popular. There's a difference.

    > I disagree. They are very popular to the typical US consumer, who doesn't want to pay more than a couple bucks for a new shiny phone in their hands.

    The subsidized handset business model is popular with typical US customers because customers do not realize that they are actually paying full price for their handset through what is essentially an installment plan. Pay one cent up front and several hundred dollars spread over the next two years. If US mobile phone users are not going to have the ability to do as they will with their mobiles after the contract has expired then the carriers should be honest about the situation and rent the handsets instead of using stealth leases.

  • by babybird (791025) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:47PM (#42692075)

    But what you can do with a locked phone, whether subsidized or not, is smash it, burn it, destroy it, sell it etc., all without breaking any laws. You just can't unlock it.

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:47PM (#42692079)

    I bet this doesn't hold up in court. Just wait for someone to unlock the phone, get in trouble, and escalate up to the supreme court.

    The DMCA's teeth have always primarily been about threats and take-down. Actually having this aspect of it put on trial would destroy that, so no company would risk it. All this stops are small businesses who unlock phones for people for a fee, without paying whatever dues are required to the carrier monopoly.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:04PM (#42692265) Homepage Journal

    it's not a viable business model evidently without excessive lobbying for laws to make it so.

    mainly because they don't want to call them rentals phones.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:14PM (#42692395)

    There's nothing preventing you from buying a phone at the unsubsidized price and then modifying it. You're making a deal with the cell phone provider: You agree that you'll honor the contract you signed, and they give you a phone at a discount. Hopefully this is going to be a bit easier over time as everyones moves to LTE (does this mean that CDMA finally bites the dust?) and phones become standardized like the rest of the civilized world.

    If that were true, then why is the cell phone contract not lower if I bring my own phone, since there is no subsidy? One could argue that the the price they offer the phone to the customer is not a subsidized price, but simply the market price. If they could charge more for the phone, they would, but the market won't bear it, so they can't. It has nothing to do with a subsidy, but instead is more like a loss leader, where the grocery store agrees to take a loss on Pepsi, to get people into the store to buy other goods.

    They can call it a subsidy, but that is just marketing speak.

  • by BBTaeKwonDo (1540945) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:21PM (#42692489)
    The DMCA says unlocking is illegal. The (soon to be expired) exemption says that unlocking is legal. There is nothing in the exemption or in the DMCA about a contract.
  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:56PM (#42692939)

    The DMCA says unlocking is illegal. The (soon to be expired) exemption says that unlocking is legal. There is nothing in the exemption or in the DMCA about a contract.

    The DMCA says nothing about unlocking; it talks about circumventing measures that are used to prevent copying. An exemption to the DMCA was made to allow such circumvention in order to unlock a phone. So there was no question that unlocking a phone is perfectly legal, the only problem was that to do something perfectly legal you had to do something illegal as well, and the exemption was there because huge numbers of users wanted to make use of their legal right to unlock a phone.

    Now it seems that the situation has changed to the point (that's the reasoning) that people can unlock their phones without any circumvention of copy protection, and therefore the exemption isn't needed anymore. If that's the case then fair enough. On the other hand, if your service provider refuses to unlock your phone, then you should complain.

  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Friday January 25, 2013 @02:44PM (#42693585)

    Exactly the opposite is true. They are popular, because people like deals where they can have the shiniest of high-tech gadgets at only a few dollars a month. It appeals greatly to people who do not have the required sum up front, and essentially require a loan/financing deal.

    It is, however, not viable; or at least not viable without laws being passed to protect it. Without this enforcement, it is trivial for people to game the system- getting cheap phones on contract, and then switching to a different network before the company has had a chance to make their expected profit out of you. They could get around this problem by changing their business model (for example, making it a real official loan which you pay off regardless, and with an interest rate fixed at the level they deem an appropriate level of profit), but that is unpalatable; it breaks the illusion of a cheap deal to the consumer, and makes it clearer how they are making their money.

    This is government intervention to protect an otherwise flawed business model.

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