Unlocking A New iPhone Is Now Illegal, But Jailbreaking Is Still Safe — What It All Means For You

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It can be easy to get “unlocking” and “jailbreaking” confused, but the two terms mean totally different things. Unlocking refers to freeing your phone to work on any carrier instead of just the one you bought it on. Jailbreaking is the process of circumventing Apple’s security measures in iOS to install tweaks, hacks, and mods that aren’t allowed in the App Store.

The U.S. Library of Congress has ruled that it is now illegal for you to unlock your smartphone if it was bought after January 26th, 2013. Carriers can still legally unlock your device for you, but it’s illegal to go through a third-party unlock vendor.

Jailbreaking your iPhone has been kept legal through 2015 under an exemption in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The crazy catch is that jailbreaking the iPad has technically been made illegal, while the iPhone and iPod touch both remain exempt. So jailbreaking is safe mostly, but unofficial unlocking is not. This is important to mention as the iOS 6.1 jailbreak approaches.

Keeping up with the U.S. legal system is very confusing, so what does all this unlocking and jailbreaking legal jargon mean for you?

Apple Now Officially Selling iPhone 5 Unlocked In The U.S.

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The iPhone 5 will be in 97 countries by 2013.
The iPhone 5 will be in 97 countries by 2013.

The iPhone 5 is now available for purchase unlocked at an unsubsidized price on Apple’s U.S. online store. Customers should also be able to pick up an unlocked iPhone 5 in U.S. Apple Retail stores as well. Pricing starts at $649 for the 16GB model.

It typically takes Apple a couple months before it starts selling a new iPhone model unlocked. Today a new option has appeared in the online store for selecting an unlocked model without a two-year carrier contract.

iPhone Users Sue Apple For Locking Their Devices To AT&T

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Lawsuit hopes to prevent iPhones from being locked to certain carriers.

Two iPhone users claim Apple has violated the Sherman Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by locking their handsets to the AT&T network without their permission. They’re now suing the Cupertino company in an effort to get their iPhones unlocked, and for monetary damages. They also want a restraining order that will prevent Apple from locking its smartphone to carriers completely.

Unlock An Off-Contract iPhone 5 For Free With An iTunes Restore

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AT&T is at war with the FCC.
AT&T is at war with the FCC.
Photo: AT&T

Verizon sells the iPhone 5 unlocked out of the box, but what about AT&T? If you buy into a two-year contract for the subsidized starting price of $200, you’re usually not able to get an unlock until you’ve fulfilled your contract.

Buying off-contract for the full starting price of $649 is another story, however. AT&T customers in good standing should be able to get a fully priced iPhone 5 unlocked for free, but the process requires filling out a web form, sending a fax, and possibly waiting more than a week.

As it turns out, unlocking an unsubsidized iPhone 5 is as simple as restoring the device in iTunes.

Verizon iPhone 5 Comes Unlocked Out Of The Box, Works On GSM Carriers Like AT&T

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Some really good news just surfaced for current and potential Verizon iPhone 5 owners.
Some really good news just surfaced for current and potential Verizon iPhone 5 owners.

It’s been confirmed that Verizon is actually selling the iPhone 5 factory unlocked out of the box, and you can pop in another SIM card to use the device on even a GSM network like AT&T. Jeff Benjamin of iDownloadBlog has already tried inserting an AT&T SIM card into his CDMA Verizon iPhone 5, and it worked!