It Will Be Illegal To Unlock Your Smartphone Yourself Starting Saturday, January 26



From Saturday, January 26, you’ll have to ask your carrier to unlock your smartphone if you wish to use it on another network. It will become illegal to do so yourself using unauthorized unlocking methods — even if your contract has run its course and you no longer have a commitment with the original provider.

Back in October 2012, the Register of Copyrights asked the Library of Congress to examine the exemptions made for certain classes of work under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You see, it is up to the Library of Congress to decide which classes of works are protected by the DMCA, and which are exempt.

The Library of Congress decided that third-party unlocking solutions were no longer allowed, reversing the decision it made on the same thing in 2006 and again in 2010.

It came to the conclusion that there are “ample alternatives to circumvention” in today’s market, which offers a wide variety of unlocked cellphone options to consumers who don’t want to be tied down. Put simply, if you want a phone that you can use on any network, then you should buy one that isn’t tied to one carrier — no matter how tempting those subsidized prices are.

The Library of Congress hasn’t ruled out unlocked altogether, however — it has just ruled out unauthorized unlocking. So if you have an iPhone on AT&T and your contract comes to an end, you can ask AT&T to unlock it for you so that you can use it on another network. What you can’t do is perform the unlock yourself, or pay a third-party to do it for you.

The problem with this, of course, is that not all carriers are happy to unlock handsets — even if they’re no longer tied to a contract. And now that they know it’s illegal for you to do it yourself, some might be more inclined to maintain their grip on the handsets they have locked in an effort to stop you switching.

This decision was actually made three months ago, but the Library of Congress decided to give us a 90-day window within which we could get all of our locked handsets unlocked in any way we chose. But that window closes on January 26. You have until the end of today, then, to rush out and unlock any handsets you want unlocked using an unauthorized method.


Image: Mountain Roamer

  • Zane Vandiver

    If a person is asking for an unlock they are not necessarily leaving a carrier, but if the carrier refuses it has definitely lost a customer.

  • shagans

    This makes no sense to me. Why can I not do what i want with my phone once I’ve paid for it?

  • rjamesmoore

    I think Apple should be it’s own carrier by now ! I would like to see how the carriers would react to this.

  • zviivz

    It makes no sense to have a locked phone in the first place. Free market, my @$$ ..

  • nthnm

    This makes no sense to me. Why can I not do what i want with my phone once I’ve paid for it?

    I agree that you should be able to do as you choose, but you’ve bought the phone at a price subsidized by the carrier.

  • kevin13769

    I don’t understand this, bad reporting at best awful scare mongering at worst…!!! You are slipping badly on your reporting. And this is a prime example. The Law in question concerns NEW phones bought from THIS date forward so if you already have a phone then it does not concern you…!

    And what is worse, the carriers refusing to unlock will just cut there own necks by refusing, it is very simple with porting these days and to be fair, why would i stay with anyone that wants to dictate to me what i am doing…

    As for the comment about the phone being “subsidised” by the carrier so it is ok… What planet are YOU from. Do you understand what subsidised means on a phone contract…??? CREDIT AT AN EXTORTIONATE RATE….!!! You need to understand how this works i think…

    I am not even in the USA and i know how badly you get ripped off with contracts. As an example, i could pay what i pay now £20 a month for 1200 minutes, 1200 text and unlimited data on a 1 month sim only contract, and pay £529 for the phone. 12 months = £769 total cost… 24 months = £1009 total cost… Or i could buy a subsidised phone and pay £59 a month for the same 1200 minutes, 1200 text but only 2Gb of data on a 24 month contract and £149 for the phone locked to network… total cheapest cost is £1565…

    Ermmmm mugs have contracts, well certainly in the UK that is the case… The quicker you stand up for yourselves over there the quicker they will stop insulting your intelligence and ripping you off…!!!