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What You Need To Know About Phone Unlocking 321

Now that unlocking a new phone is under many circumstances illegal in the U.S. (!), Digital Trends has collected a useful set of answers outlining just what that means. As they put it, a "quick guide to answer all your why, how, and WTF questions." Among them, some explanation of the rule-making process, the reasoning that led to the end to the unlocking exception to the DMCA (including the Ninth Circuit's 2010 Vernor v. Autodesk decision), and illustrations of situations in which it is not illegal to unlock your phone.
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What You Need To Know About Phone Unlocking

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  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @11:49AM (#42707443) Homepage Journal

    From the article: "In the long run, you will likely end up paying more for your locked device than for an unlocked one." But how is this true even when the only carrier with coverage in your area doesn't give a discount on monthly service for bringing your own phone?

  • Of course it is anti-competitive and anti-consumer. Why do you think the US carriers are so keen on it? They're consistently anti-consumer, and put a lot of effort into persuading the "regulators" (I use that word advisedly) remain sympathetic to their point of view.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:00PM (#42707525)

    Why would they? USA needs to remove "land of the free" from their national anthem as they are plunging down the international listings of freedom.

    And why? Because too many Americans don't give a shit because they lap up the "if you have nothing to hide" bullshit.

    "nothing to see here, move along"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:10PM (#42707579)

    It helps when they lobby, sorry bribe, the law makers to do exactly what they're told

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:16PM (#42707629)

    If i read the article correctly , the whole issue is with the software on the phone and the copyright on it. So if i hack my android phone and flash my legal aosp or CM rom on it, where is the dmca problem?

    further, network locking is something else then software locking. so how is network locking related to software locking and dmca?

  • by metalmaster ( 1005171 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:23PM (#42707671)

    Unlocking devices isn't as relevant in the US as it is in other parts of the world. The big 4 in the US all use different technologies to provide service, so taking a device from carrier a to carrier b doesn't make sense in terms of being useful. Of course there is always the argument of "it's my device let me do what i please" and I agree more with that, but those people should pony up the full retail value of the product. If you buy a phone that is carrier subsidized you're essentially financing the phone over 2 years.

    If the carriers want to move to an unsubsidized model they should give consumers an incentive to pay upfront costs. T-Mobile's "value plan" is a good example. The customer buy's the device at a discount and pays an additional fee of $20 until the device's retail value is paid off. The plan then becomes $20 cheaper. If carrier's want a BYOD to work they need to offer cheaper rates.

    The carriers can offer their retail salespeople a rate plan of $20 at the cost of BYOD. Why can't they do this for consumers? The plan's dont even have to be that cheap, but a $40-50 plan is not out of the realm of possibility. When I worked retail I bought my own Galaxy S3 and paid $25 for my plan. For an upfront cost of ~$520 I saved about $1800 over the cost of a 2-year consumer rate plan

  • by bcdonadio ( 2821809 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:23PM (#42707679) Homepage
    I'm not a USA citizen, but as a Brazilian (country which all kinds of operator locking were ruled *illegal* a few years ago), I seriously recommend you guys to unlock your phones, being it legal or not, you needing it or not. It's a simple matter of having your rights respected.
  • by Mister Liberty ( 769145 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @12:49PM (#42707851)

    If so, there is an intermediate stage between 'intact' and 'destroyed'.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @01:05PM (#42708027) Homepage Journal

    How is changing firmware different?

    Because it's digital, and common sense has been thrown out for digital goods.

    You see, copyright used to come into play when you copied something. As long as you only used it, it didn't matter. The book you bought, you could do with as you pleased, read or not, write comments into the margins, rip out pages and re-arrange them in an order you prefer, whatever.

    Only when you made copies of your Romeo & Juliet where the death scene is at the beginning and the rest follows with the word "Zombie" inserted here and there would you be in violation of copyright (well, not really due to that one having expired, but you get the point).

    You'd assume it would be the same for a digital book, but it's not. Someone who should be in an asylum instead of a court room decided that in order to read a digital, you have to load it from storage into memory, which is making a copy and thus copyright applies which means the author can dictate terms.

    That's why you don't own the firmware, and you don't even own the copy of the firmware on your phone, but if the manufacturer were to, say, distribute the firmware as a print copy the way very very early computer magazines once included software you could transcribe into your computer, then you could do whatever you want with the paper copy, including changing it.

    If you think that's crazy, conf. "asylum" above.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @01:18PM (#42708151) Homepage

    The crazy thing is who easily that passes, with that logic start thinking about how much of your "belongings" really aren't. You don't own your car, TV, stove, refrigerator, freezer, dish washer, washing machine and so on as I can guarantee they have micro-controllers with copyrighted software on them. The US has become the world leaders in hollowing out private ownership, not because it's really owned by the state like in communism but because it's really owned by the corporations, you just have a limited use license. Don't you dare tamper with that washing machine or the DMCA will come get you.

  • by green1 ( 322787 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @02:00PM (#42708489)

    Apparently the free market has failed in the US, because it was able to buy laws designed to distort it in the phone company's favour.

    Americans haven't realized that any law affecting businesses or consumers is by definition the opposite of a free market. Somehow people scream bloody murder about the lack of a free market any time consumer protection laws are talked about, but corporate protectionism is seen as protecting the free market. It's a great double standard if you're a large corporation, not so good for anyone else.

    All copyright, patent, and trademark laws are anti free market. (and this cell phone unlocking bit is part of a copyright law) whether some form of IP protection is good is a different matter, but it is not in any way "free market"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @02:25PM (#42708683)

    Corporations are people too. Sucks to be an American.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @02:46PM (#42708823)

    Citizens in the US have more freedom than anywhere else on the planet.

    We note your wording applies to US citizens in the US, and not visitors, residents, or others (see GITMO). Also, the measuring was done by US citizens who want a specific outcome. I moved out of the US to a place with more freedom. But I could see how someone from the US that wants to carry guns could think otherwise. For whatever reason, the arguement always comes down to guns, or the particular way the US chose to balance rights.

    You do realize no right is absolute, right? Other places officially recognize the right to privacy, one right you do not have in the US. And the balance between privacy and other rights makes a line where a liar from the US could arbitrarily assert that it proves the US is more free.

    One specific example is name suppression. An accused person can have their name suppressed (in certain circumstances) because an accusation alone often triggers punishment. So they are free to live their lives as an innocent person until proven guilty. But in the US, the mere accusation has caused trouble for many people, especially celebrities and other public figures. Shouldn't you have the freedom to be free from punishment until proven guilty? You don't get that freedom in the US, instead, you get the freedom of speech, where people can try and convict you in the public forum before the first evidence is brought against you.

    Which is more free? That's a matter of opinion, but every ignorant nationalistic myopic American is certain that freedom of speech overrides all else, especially when somewhere else may do it differently.

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @03:00PM (#42708901)

    USA needs to remove "land of the free" from their national anthem as they are plunging down the international listings of freedom.

    Why? Citizens in the US have more freedom than anywhere else on the planet.

    Don't forget, people are not citizens any more, corporations are citizens but people aren't. People are items with a value, there to be used.

    This was presaged by corporate adoption of the term human resources to refer to what had previously been termed personnel. You are a resource, to be exploited like any other kind of resource.

  • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @03:15PM (#42708999) Journal

    I think I'd rather have unlocking be legal even if it meant the end of subsidized devices.

    Why would it mean the end of subsidized devices? You've signed a multi-year contract with the company to get the subsidized device so why should they care whose network you use it on - you will still be paying them their pound of flesh to use their network regardless of whichever other network you sign up for.

    In fact it is very probably to their benefit for you to use another network since then they'll get the money and someone else will get the network traffic to deal with! The only possible benefit is that it lets them make huge profits on roaming but for the US only less than 40% [] (assuming a 300M population) of the US even have a passport so an even smaller fraction will travel abroad in any given year. In fact it probably is this which is driving it - in the EU, which has controlled roaming charges, unlocking a phone seems to be far more common (at least that's my impression without hard evidence to back it up).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @03:41PM (#42709197)

    "We still have our guns."

    But only a teeny, tiny percentage of us actually are proficient with them. For the most part, if all those with guns came storming out into the streets in some kind of unified protest, there would be a not so insignificant number of 'friendly fire' victims before, during, and after any kind of meaningful action would actually take place.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @04:03PM (#42709363) Journal

    We still have our guns.

    Have you ever seen a Bradley fighting vehicle? An M6 Linebacker? Do you really believe your guns offer you protection from the government? Remember, the person most likely to die from a civilian-owned gun is the owner, by a huge margin.

    There are lots of reasons to own guns. I own a gun. "Protection from the government" is not one of them. That is a talk-radio fantasy.

  • by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @04:22PM (#42709453)

    It is a big issue, because you buy the phone, you don't rent it.

    You also buy a home, but while it is still being financed, there are limits on what you can do with it. (For example, not carry full insurance)

    Spoken well an truly as someone who does not own their home. I do. I can assure you, there is a world of difference between renting and owning. Basically, the rules for owners are: 1) obey they law. Not a bunch of really stupid restrictions like "can't junk the ugly carpets". If you have issues with how you can insure your home, time to refinance to a less obnoxious bank. You'll make money on that anyway.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:47PM (#42710001) Journal

    Let's say I get a free phone from Verizon. And then I decide that Sprint offers a better deal, so I just stop paying the Verizon bill. Verizon is still out the money for the phone. They're going to report me to the credit bureaus--oh, boo hoo! My credit is already shot!

    And that would be the end of any subsidized phones for you. So the system is self-correcting.

    And really is the number of people who would ruin their credit to get a $99 iPhone really so great that a law must be created to outlaw unlocking?

  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @09:18PM (#42711559)

    A small bunch of greatly outnumbered, pretty much untrained guys with AKs, RPGs, and IEDs have given (and still are giving) bloody hell to U.S. forces overseas, smart guy. The feds have to get out of those vehicles to make the people do, or stop doing, anything. It's all about commitment.

  • errata (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @09:36PM (#42711667) Journal

    First sentence of the third paragraph should read, "...cling religiously to the part of the Constitution which they say protects gun ownership..."

  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:27AM (#42712827)

    Funny I don't remember the 2nd giving you the right to bear RPGs and IEDs.

    1) Nor does it withhold the right. The simple fact is that it does not mention any particular types of "arms". The 2nd Amendment doesn't "give" anybody any rights. It prohibits the federal government from infringing on a right asserted to exist naturally. The distinction matters. The entire constitution is a document limiting what the federal government can do, not "allowing" citizens certain rights.

    2) Small arms fire will do quite nicely in the absence of RPGs and IEDs, if case you didn't notice. So far this year [Sep 2012] more than 50 coalition troops—most American—have been gunned down by Afghan police or soldiers, or nearly one out of every seven coalition fatalities. [] That is gunfire, not RPGs or IEDs. Rifle fire can penetrate a kevlar helmet, and not every part of the body (the face and the legs containing the femoral arteries, for example)

    3) If civil war breaks out, it won't matter much if ownership of weapons is infringed. The fighters will acquire weapons the same way insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and countless other places have; the same way drug lords do. It is the attempted criminalization of law abiding citizens in a time of domestic peace which is offensive.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson