Unlocking Your Mobile Phone Is No Longer Legal
Last week Wired Magazine reported:
Mobile phones purchased beginning Saturday can no longer be legally unlocked by U.S. consumers to enable them to work on different networks.
The reason, as we reported three months ago, was that the U.S. Copyright Office is no longer granting unlocking an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA makes it illegal to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access” to copyrighted material, in this case software embedded in phones that controls carrier access.
But in all practicality, nothing will really change for consumers. Before unlocking was first exempted in 2006 and again in 2010, the carriers never sued individuals for unlocking their own phones, and they don’t plan to. And even when unlocking was exempted and allowed, the carriers and phone makers were successfully suing illicit businesses that bought throw-away phones by the thousands, unlocked them, and shipped them overseas.
Still, the changeover worries Mitch Stoltz, a copyright lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That’s because now there’s nothing preventing the carriers from suing individuals and abandoning the practice of unlocking mobile phones for their customers.
“People will no longer have this solid shield created by the Copyright Office in the event they do get sued over this,” Stoltz said in a telephone interview.
The carriers, however, last year told the Copyright Office, which every three years reexamines exemptions to the DMCA, that it did not oppose individuals unlocking their phones. Many carriers provide the service today to individuals, and that won’t change.
In news especially important to our industry; ABC News reports:
"Violations of the DMCA [unlocking your phone] may be punished with a civil suit or, if the violation was done for commercial gain, it may be prosecuted as a criminal act," Brad Shear, a Washington, D.C.-area attorney and blogger who is an expert on social media and technology law, told ABC News. "A carrier may sue for actual damages or for statutory damages."
The worst-case scenario for an individual or civil offense could be as much as a $2,500 fine. As for those planning to profit off of the act or a criminal offense -- such as a cellphone reseller -- the fine could be as high as $500,000 and include prison time.
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Source: Wired.com and ABC News