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Cell Phone Unlocking Is Legal -- For Now 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-successfully-kicked-down-road dept.
On Friday President Obama signed into a law a bill allowing mobile devices to be legally unlocked, so that consumers can switch between carriers. The legislation was kicked off by a successful petition on Whitehouse.gov after the Librarian of Congress decided that cell phones no longer needed an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-hacking provision. The legislation (PDF) passed both houses of Congress and is now law. Unfortunately, the new bill doesn't guarantee permanent legality. It simply reinstates the exemption, and leaves the DMCA alone. For the next year, cell phone unlocking will certainly be legal, but after that, the Librarian of Congress once again has the ability to void the exemption once every three years.
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Cell Phone Unlocking Is Legal -- For Now

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    LOL, "American Freedom"!

    • by PNutts (199112) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:51AM (#47588711)

      This isn't about freedom, it's an example of "For the People".

      • If it really were "For the People" they wouldn't need a law to be able to switch carrier in the first place.

        • by Thantik (1207112) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @11:00AM (#47588761)
          That's because in America, corporations are people too!
          • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @11:05AM (#47588785)

            And that's the biggest fucking mistake any democratic government ever made.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              So you don't like certain people now?

              • by idontgno (624372)
                Yeah, it's racism. GPP hates corporate people. (I guess that's politically incorrect; I should have said "Corporate-American people".)
  • Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Torp (199297) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:44AM (#47588687)

    Because where I live carriers are obligated by law to unlock any phone not tied to a contract for free, and one tied to a contract for a minimal fee as soon as the contract is up.
    The legality of firmware modifications isn't even talked about, this is a consumer protection requirement.

    • Yep, it must be terrible to live in a land where Big Government can high-handedly and arbitrarily restrict the Freedoms of large corporations. It's a shame that the serfs living under such repressive regimes don't have skilled and benevolent lobbyists to help them rise up and throw off their shackles.

      At least, that's what the corporate news outlets here in the US are leading us to believe.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You joke, but it strikes me as unfair that some nations legally restrict phones subsidized from a long-term contract. Even though I don't have such a phone, if I want to enter such a contract it's my business, the government should have nothing to do with it.

        • Re:Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gmack (197796) <gmack&innerfire,net> on Saturday August 02, 2014 @12:31PM (#47589177) Homepage Journal

          Once the contract is done with, it should be your phone and not the telco's phone and that is all these laws are demanding. I can still go to most countries in Europe and get a phone on contract, but as soon as the contract is finished they are required to unlock the phone and to me, that seems fair to both sides..

          • Re:Funny (Score:5, Informative)

            by Torp (199297) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @01:21PM (#47589373)

            Exactly - you can, like in the US, get a free/reduced price phone with an X year contract if you want. All the carriers would be happy to sell you one.
            There are two differences: one, when the X years end, they MUST unlock your formerly subsidized phone for an insignificant fee (i think i paid 10 euros last time).
            Two, you don't have to get a subsidized phone. There are 5 million places that would happily sell you a new, carrier free phone to use with any GSM carrier.
            The carriers are also required to unlock phones not attached to a contract for free - i.e. if you pay full price, it has to be unlocked - but no one's crazy enough to buy a full price phone from them, any other store would be cheaper :)

        • You joke, but it strikes me as unfair that some nations legally restrict phones subsidized from a long-term contract. Even though I don't have such a phone, if I want to enter such a contract it's my business, the government should have nothing to do with it.

          There is no problem with long term contracts for subsidised phones. You enter a 24 month contract, you get an expensive phone really cheap or for free, and the cost is included in the 24 month contract. Now you can unlock it. That doesn't mean you are out of the contract. You'll still pay for your 24 month contract.

          • by BronsCon (927697)
            Unless your bill gets smaller 24 months after you get a new phone, you should be able to get one phone (bought under contract) unlocked for every 24 months of service. That is to say, if you bring your own phone initially, then upgrade, say, 12 months later, those first 12 months in which your bill was exactly the same as it was *after* you upgraded should cover half he cost of the new phone. You were paying for it before you even got it, and they should respect that.

            My provider doesn't do service contrac
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You seem to be living under the illusion that these kinds of laws bother "large corporations". Whatever costs this will create for them, they'll just pass on to their customers. Corporations like regulations that create barriers to entry, the more the better. And Obama keeps supplying them.

        This is nothing but political theater by which crony capitalists like Obama appeal to fools like you, while pissing away your taxes and your retirement funds in handouts to their buddies in industry.

        • by Imrik (148191)

          This doesn't create a barrier, if anything it destroys one, not that it matters given how high the barrier for entry in the cell carrier business is.

      • It must be terrible to live in a land where Big Corporations can claim property rights one everything, including intellectual property rights on methodologies and technologies related to the sequence of steps you take to wipe your own ass, or how many clicks you do to complete an online purchase, 1-click shopping methodology being OPP, of Amazon, who's down with it, yeah you know me. I must be some fucking communist spy to be bitchin about overbearing and reaching excesses of property rights, such as intell
        • If they want to protect Mickey Mouse, they should call it like that, by name - the Mickey Mouse intellectual property right protection exemption act, whereby all the science books from 1935 are public domain, but Mickey Mouse stays a property of Disney. And they should have a list of shame exemptions, codified into the law, renewable periodically, that did not expire in 70 years, but maintain perpetual intellectual property protection, such as Disney keeping Mickey Mouse in 2098, just like we have DMCA exem
          • The initial copyright Act of the US was for 14 years, renewable to 28. Right now patents are at 20 years from date of filing, increased from 17 from date of approval, so that delay tactics can't be used. All we need is excuses to keep increasing it. How long until patent protection lasts lifetime of inventor + 70 years? These limits are a mere choice, and there has to be a balance between the interest of the public, and interest of the public in the Adam Smith's On the Wealth Of Nations, self interest seeki
            • And those 7 acres were the Irish potato famine average per starving family, as far as I know. With today's biotech, and super efficient crops, the limit might be as low as 1 acre.
    • Re:Funny (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kamapuaa (555446) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @11:03AM (#47588775) Homepage

      It's de facto been the same in the US...you just ask your company for a code and they give it to you for free (even if the phone has previously been under contract). Additionally, you've always been able to buy unlocked phones.

    • what about the right to unlock for roaming at any time even when still in contract?

      • Roaming is something the carrier can allow on your current sim, what you really mean is "what about using another carriers sim at any time, ostensibly for use overseas"...

    • by houghi (78078)

      Where I live the locking of phones is forbidden.
      So wether you have a contract or not, you can swap out your phone with any other phone and use that one. As if the contract is not related to the phone itself.

      Oh and we also have number transfer that actualy works. I have had the same number for (I think) 10 years and have changed providers several times. I just fill out a form, send that in (as they need a signature) and that's it.

    • by mark-t (151149)

      Because where I live carriers are obligated by law to unlock any phone not tied to a contract for free, and one tied to a contract for a minimal fee as soon as the contract is up.

      You seem to be contradicting yourself. Once a contract is up, the phone is no longer tied to a contract.... so why wouldn't it be free per the first provision?

      • by sumdumass (711423)

        He's making the distinction between phones you can purchase which were never part of a contract compared to those that were part of a contract at one time. It's not a contradiction as it's more redundant on itself if you insist on viewing it that way.

        For instance, even if you purchase your phone from the carrier, you can purchase it outright without it ever being under a contract. That would be one not tied to a contract. Of course you can also purchase it under a contract in which it is tied to a contract.

        • by mark-t (151149)
          But, as I said... once the contract is up, the phone is *NOT* under contract... is not tied to a contract, and is absolutely no different than a phone you have already purchased outright. And of course, not being under any contract, if they wanted to charge a fee simply because it *WAS* under contract previously, you could just switch providers and have the new provider unlock it for free, since it never would have been under contract with them, giving your current provider incentive to do it for free onc
          • by sumdumass (711423)

            He didn't say the phones off a contract was tied to a contract, he said they can be unlocked once they are off the contract.

            In other words, he is suggesting that the law makes a distinction between phones never under a contract (which must be unlocked free) and phones that have been under a contract (that a small fee can apply once they are off contract). I don't know where he is from or care to look his law up. But it appears that the contract notion should read "carriers are obligated by law to unlock any

            • by mark-t (151149)

              My point is that there *IS* no real distinction between a phone that was purchased for use with a particular provider but was never actually under a contract, and a phone which has previously been under a contract and the contract has since expired. One could theoretically simply switch to a different provider after the contract was up, and since it was never actually under any contract with them, and electronically identical to a phone that might have been bought for use with the first provider, but was

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A bill was signed into law! Lately bills either stop at the senate or things get done with executive orders.

  • ... where in Sam Hill did the Librarian of Congress gain this influence?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Apparently from the DMCA, which is the real root of this issue (and a lot of others...). That is what needs radical changing, if not outright repeal.

      • Apparently from the DMCA, which is the real root of this issue (and a lot of others...). That is what needs radical changing, if not outright repeal.

        Not really. There is nothing wrong with laws preventing people from illegally copying copyrighted works. It's just that in the case of mobile phone unlocking, I can't quite see where someone would be illegally copying some copyrighted works.

  • And... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by J'raxis (248192) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @11:19AM (#47588835) Homepage

    ...absolutely nothing has changed. People have been unlocking their phones; people will continue to unlock their phones; and if Congress re-outlaws it, people will still continue to unlock their phones.

    • by cob666 (656740)
      Yes, people have been unlocking phones but without the carrier's consent you have to 'jailbreak' the phone. I'm going to assume that the phone either needs to be out of contract or you need to pay the balance due on the phone to get it unlocked.

      If providers are going to have to unlock phones then I can see them changing things up a bit. Instead of the phone company 'subsidizing' your phone which you are allowed to keep when your contract is up, I see plans that include a lease fee for the phone with a n
      • T-Mobile has been taking full advantage of the difficulty of jailbreaking. Their monthly rates are attractively low, but they do their absolute best to _insist_ that you buy a new phone from them instead of migrating your old phone, and their sales people do their level best to discount even the _possibility_ of such an option. So they've turned around the old model of "free or cheap phones, the money comes from their monthly bills" and separating the costs. This allows them to advertise as the "cheapest",

        • Their monthly rates are attractively low, but they do their absolute best to _insist_ that you buy a new phone from them instead of migrating your old phone, and their sales people do their level best to discount even the _possibility_ of such an option.

          Not the experience I had talking to a T-Mobile guy a few months back. Showed them my old phone, they told me to get it unlocked by my old carrier, and they'd be good to go....

        • by BronsCon (927697)
          Funny, when I switched to T-Mobile, they were more than happy to get AT&T on the phone for me to get my HTC One X unlocked. Of course, AT&T refused to provide the correct unlock code (they pulled that "we'll text it to you within 24 hours" bullshit, then, when that code didn't work, insisted that they had to escalate it to "engineering", and that I'd hear back in 24 hours again, which I never did -- and I know it wasn't T-Mobile scamming, as I went into an AT&T store when the first code didn't w
          • How long ago did you do this? Your experience is completely opposite from mine, less than 3 months ago.

            • by BronsCon (927697)
              I made the switch about 15 months ago. However, as the M8 only came out this March, my most recent experience with them (the one where they talked me out of the upgrade) wasn't so far back; I can't pinpoint the exact date, but it was end of March, beginning of April. That is to say, roughly 4 months ago. Though, I was in store last month with a friend who needed to replace his damaged S3 and they tried to find every solution short of selling him a new phone, even in the face of him having already picked out
        • by kamapuaa (555446)

          Maybe you ran into a guy who did that, but TMobile promotes it pretty well on their stores and their web page, and before they had iphones they had radio ads encouraging people to just use an unlocked iphone.

          I looked into prices for my wife and I, and even without the subsidized phone (and using expensive phones paid off per the month) TMobile was substantially cheaper than AT&T or Verizon. For a family of four, AT&T becomes cheapest, with its family plans.

          You could say that all the different price

          • I went to their page. Then I tried to actually _use_ the "switch to us and keep your old phone", which they'd advertised extensively, and I ran into a series of forms and options that did not actually allow keeping phones. I will admit that I was looking for a family plan, that made it more intriguing. (I pay for my parents' phone bills, they're retired and it's the least I can do to stay in touch.)

        • I wanted to keep my phone and they were fine with that. They just warned me that they'd had other customers try with that phone, and it had issues with data. I already had an unlocked phone (Verizon has to unlock their phones since they use Block C airspace) and I'd rooted it and put on a stock ROM so it wouldn't whine about being on a different carrier.

          The sales guy gave me his SIM and I tried it. Voice worked great, but data was flakey. Kept trying to sync up at 4G, dropping back down, etc, etc. I decided

          • by BronsCon (927697)

            They didn't offer to jailbreak the phone for me, in part I'm sure because at the time they couldn't legally, but they certainly didn't mind if I tried, they just warned me of potential issues.

            This is one of the things I like most about T-Mobile. They don't care WHAT you do on their network, as long as you're paying for it. I had an HTC One X on AT&T and I had to flash a different CID onto it in order to use HTC's developer tools (e.g. unlock the bootloader so I could install a custom ROM), as AT&T made them disable the feature for phones locked to their network; I then had to flash the stock CID back in order for my AT&T SIM to work. T-Mobile? When I went into the store to buy my M7,

    • Our elected congress never directly outlawed it. This rule, like so many others, came from an unelected bureaucrat.

    • by onproton (3434437)
      It's true that not much will change in reality, but it's still a win ideologically & may change the direction of the conversation.
    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Somewhat OT, why does the 2nd link (BTC) in your sig redirect to "https://coinurl.com/index.php" ??

      • by J'raxis (248192)

        Looks like something broke.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Or maybe the FSP got hacked :(

          BTW I like your home page, quite retro-tech. And why don't we see you over on SoylentNews or Pipedot? you're everywhere else. :)

  • Your Verizon phone likely will still only work on Verizon, and this may make phones and phone service a little more expensive down the road, and it may kill some business models that could have brought phones to the poor with no monthly charges, but who cares! Well-off, politically connected geeks can now unlock their phones officially! A victory for democracy!

    • There are a lot cheap phones out there, you just have to look. A friend paid $10 for a phone and about $10 a month, you know of anything cheaper?
      • T-mobile to go. You can get a phone and the first year of service for $120 (20 for the phone and 100 for initial Gold membership), and then you only need to put on $10 per YEAR to keep it going (as long as you don't use up too many minutes, so it makes a good emergency phone).

    • "Your Verizon phone likely will still only work on Verizon, and this may make phones and phone service a little more expensive down the road"

      Please, prey tell, how this will make phone service more expensive. Explain to us all how enabling a free market economy makes things more expensive, while vendor lock in results in lower cost to the consumer. I can't wait to hear your explanation.

      Bear in mind while explaining that this allows people to switch to a lower cost service rather than be locked into a hig

      • by silfen (3720385)

        Please, prey tell, how this will make phone service more expensive.

        If you switch phone carriers, that's a big loss to your phone company. Providing locked phones are one of several mechanisms by which a company can insure against that loss and they are willing to give you a discount for that. In different words, they pay you an insurance premium, same way you pay car insurance.

        And by further standardizing phone service terms, it will likely also lead to a weeding out of MVNOs, which have been thriving on of

        • "If you switch phone carriers, that's a big loss to your phone company. "

          If someone switches phone carriers to my phone company, that's a big gain for my phone company!

          " Providing locked phones are one of several mechanisms by which a company can insure against that loss and they are willing to give you a discount for that."

          No. You are confusing discounted handsets with discounted rates (the latter of which don't exist.)

          "Consumers have been able to buy unlocked phones and switch at will for many years."

          So

    • by Kardos (1348077)

      > and it may kill some business models that could have brought phones to the poor with no monthly charges

      If a potential business model relies on creating a captive market via legislated freedom removal, it's a bad business model, full stop. Cell phone subsidization plans are already protected by contract law. The additional criminalization of unlocking is unnecessary.

  • OMG (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405)
    These comments suck.
  • The DMCA is one of the single-handedly most stupid laws that has ever been passed in the US! Pretty much every stupid lawsuit and dumb statute you guys have falls under the DMCA! It's clear that lobbiest really did get to the government to pass this dumb act!

  • On Friday President Obama signed into a law a bill allowing mobile devices to be legally unlocked

    Good news and all, but did it really have to go up to the President? No wonder he hasn't had time to get around to closing Guantanamo Bay if he has to do with (relatively) piddling crap like this!

    • by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @01:04PM (#47589311) Journal
      The president must sign every bill before it becomes law. If the president chooses not to sign a bill, it is considered a veto and the bill is returned to congress. If it gets a 2/3 majority vote, the bill becomes law anyway. This is one of the primary duties of the president.

      So yes, it went to the president, just like every other bill that has gotten through congress.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You almost got the procedure. The US President has 10 days (not including Sundays) to sign or veto a bill. If the US President chooses to neither sign nor veto a bill, then it depends upon whether Congress is in session or not; if Congress is not in session then it becomes a "pocket veto" [wikipedia.org], if Congress is in session at the 10 day mark then it becomes law without the President signing it (see Aticle 1, Section 7, Clause 3 [wikipedia.org]).

        • Yes, I simplified it. I also got the first sentence wrong, and corrected that by mentioning the ability for congress to override a veto. The main point is that every bill goes before the President before it can become law.
          • by hacker (14635)

            ...and even if he doesn't sign it, it becomes law anyway, as long as Congress is in session.

  • We will just see more incompatibly between networks. A lot ilke if you have an unlocked cmda phone today.. Where you going to go other than back to verizon? Each phone will end up with custom firmware, so you are stuck with that carrier.

    • We will just see more incompatibly between networks. A lot ilke if you have an unlocked cmda phone today.. Where you going to go other than back to verizon? Each phone will end up with custom firmware, so you are stuck with that carrier.

      First of all, Verizon is not the only CDMA carrier in the USA. (Sprint, for example, uses CDMA.) Verizon can't "break" their version of CDMA without making it impossible for non-Verizon subscribers to roam on their network.

      Second, many of the phones currently available in the USA support all CDMA and GSM network protocols. Some even support them at all of the frequencies used outside North America, so you can roam in other continents.

      Third, many phones from CDMA carriers now come with a removable SIM car

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        ok i should have said 'where can you realistically go'. verizon was a quick example. I do know its not 100% black and white ( i even have a phone that does both cmda and gsm with 2 sims, at the same time ) but realistically most people will be stuck with what they buy from their carrier and not have more capable phones

        and yes they can all 'break' their network so you can only use their "approved" phones, if they want to. they just dont have/want to yet. if this goes further and they are forced to start

    • If you have a Verizon worldphone with GSM support you have more options. I'm switching over to a GSM provider soon and will be curious to see what happens when a different SIM is used in the US.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You outright own your phone (EG it is not still under contract) there is no reason' you shouldn't be able to do any damn thing you please with it.

  • The other half is that some carriers (I'm looking at you Verizon) won't activate a phone they didn't sell, even though it's capable of operating on their network. What good is an unlocked phone if no other carriers are willing to activate it? To be effective, this needs a partner law requiring carriers to activate phones which can operate on their network, regardless of where the customer bought it.

    Another benefit this would have is that manufacturers would start selling phones directly instead of only
  • I wonder why the comments are filled with discussion about SIM locks and operators unlocking or not the devices after the end of contract. SIM-lock issue is no biggie, you can always simply buy the phone without telco as middleman.

    What's more important there is that without this DMCA exception, you can't legally "jailbreak" your phone, install your own operating system or some "custom ROMs". Without this exception, jailbreaking an iPhone to install Cydia is illegal; breaking into bootloader of some non-unlo

    • by hacker (14635)

      SIM-lock issue is no biggie, you can always simply buy the phone without telco as middleman.

      ...except in the United States of America.

      You might be outside the US, but you literally cannot purchase a phone in the US without specifying which carrier you're going to bind that phone to, contractually. Not Samsung/HTC/LG/Motorola/Google, not Microsoft, not Nokia, not iPhone and not BlackBerry.

      So you're luck to be outside the US. For the rest of us, we're stuck paying full price for phones off-contract, and st

      • by dos1 (2950945)

        It's a myth and I've already seen a lot of people from US debunking it. And even if it would be somewhat true, there are people in US who use their Openmoko Neo Freerunners and Goldelico GTA04s, or who preordered their Neo900, which were never (and never will be) locked to anything other than operating frequency.

        Buying a phone in the US without simlock is far from being impossible. It's just a bit harder - well, for some people the difference may be negligible, but then no regulation will help them...

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      What's more important there is that without this DMCA exception, you can't legally "jailbreak" your phone, install your own operating system or some "custom ROMs". Without this exception, jailbreaking an iPhone to install Cydia is illegal; breaking into bootloader of some non-unlockable by default Android phone is illegal as well.

      Jailbreaking an iPhone is actually legal. It was an exemption granted the last DMCA round.

      Now, Apple doesn't want you to, mostly because the vast majority of jailbreakers use it to

  • This should be bloody obvious to anyone with the mentality of an everage 12 year old or greater, but there is no guarantee that ANY law stay in effect permanently. You can supercede any law at any time just by passing a new law. Hell, you can even amend the Constitution. If you supersede the fiftth amendment and then pass a law enabling the cops to beat you with a rubber hose to extract a confession, you couldn't even (legally) refuse to incriminate yourself any more.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If they were serious about passing this as law they should have made it permanent. It is ridiculous how this keeps bouncing back and forth between being illegal and legal.

  • Why does Congress have a librarian? Congress doesn't actually do anything. And that librarian only seems to do stupid things.
  • While in another year it may well become illegal to root your phone and crack boot loaders at least you won't be breaking the law when you SIM unlock.

    The only reason piecemeal temporary exemptions exist is restrictions are overwhelmingly seen as illegitimate and completely unenforceable.

  • The obvious fix is to get rid of the DMCA.
    I don't understand why exemptions are even allowed to be a thing.

  • Is it legal for me to take a shower? Quick, get the president to sign a law giving me this freedom!

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