Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

What You Need To Know About Phone Unlocking

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the land-of-liberty dept.

Cellphones 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.

cancel ×

321 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (5, Informative)

craznar (710808) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707425)

I know it is in Australia (ACCC).... would have thought US had more protection.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (5, Insightful)

dkf (304284) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707489)

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.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707579)

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

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (3, Informative)

jhoegl (638955) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708345)

I do not see an issue here.
TFA states many exemptions such as currently unlocked phones you can purchase from many places, phones not under contract, second hand phones, etc.
It isnt that big of a deal, and this isnt "jailbreaking", as some might think.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707655)

A lot of people would probably disagree with me on this, but while I've never bought a smartphone outright, I think I'd rather have unlocking be legal even if it meant the end of subsidized devices.

No doubt the carriers would hate that too, though. I know they usually will, but does anyone know if a carrier is required to unlock a phone when you've lived out the associated contract term?

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707681)

God FUCK AmeriKKKa. Glad I moved out years ago.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707883)

God ____ AmeriKKKa. Glad I moved out years ago.

I'm also glad you moved out.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (4, Interesting)

kurt555gs (309278) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707875)

I noticed you say " consumer ". With laws like the DMCA, you are just that, and not a " customer ".

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707937)

And these are the same regulators that so many slashdaughters thinks should be granted vastly more power in the form of deliberately ambiguous "net neutrality" laws.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#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"

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707637)

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.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707805)

That's an arbitrary bar that is kin to saying "well it could be worse" every time something gets worse as if having something better isn't worth protecting.

It's ok because It could be worse, you could be dead. Then when you're dead it becomes: well it could be worse, your death could have been more painful. There's always a way things can get worse.

You need to get up off your ass and stop accepting bullshit not because it could get worse, but because it will get worse if you do nothing.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (-1, Troll)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707753)

land of the free is only applicable if:

-You can afford it (Laws, Lawyers, Bribes, Politicians, regulators, etc.)
-you have connections or material to blackmail with
-You are not Islamist and preferably Christian (Sic) (Atheist may not be good enough)

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (5, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707791)

I propose an alternative. See sig.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708315)

You picked the wrong phrase. The USA is still the "land of the free" but is no longer "the home of the brave."

There can be no justification for elected officials out-sourcing their responsibility to maintain a uniform code of justice to an appointed individual or agency. If there are not enough elected representatives to carry out their Constitutional responsibilities, then the number of representatives elected by the voting populous must be increased to ensure adequate representation. Wouldn't truly brave citizens insist on representation so strong that misrepresentation would be a statistically improbable to no less than 6 standard deviations above that which could be undermined by the corruption of the 'mean' number of representatives?

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708379)

Really, if freedom exists then there is nothing to hide. When freedom vanishes then one had better hide all kinds of things. Freedom is more complex than most suspect. For example my ability, or a huge corporations ability, to keep my data away from prying eyes pretty much destroys the idea that a person has privacy at all. How can it be known that their privacy has been violated without the ability to see what is in other peoples' files?

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708529)

If the violator acts on knowledge that came from a privacy violation, you know they violated privacy without looking at their files.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (3, Interesting)

blackest_k (761565) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707745)

In Ireland the phone networks are legally obligated to unlock phones for free, although they are allowed to charge an administration fee (about 25 euro)

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (4, Informative)

agoliveira (188870) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708121)

In Brazil the phones cannot be sold locked. If they are, for some reason, the seller is obligated to unlock it for free.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (5, Informative)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708253)

In the UK you can buy phones on contract unlocked, and usually cheaper too. If you buy directly from the phone company it might cost you £35/month and you get a locked phone. If you buy from an independent like the old fashioned sounding Carphone Warehouse or borderline illiterate Phones 4 U you get the same phone for £30/month and it will be unlocked.

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.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (4, Insightful)

green1 (322787) | about a year and a half ago | (#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"

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (1)

green1 (322787) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708439)

I'm confused with your definition of "free" if it includes a 25 euro fee... Of course that's still better than many carriers.

I do know where I live that my provider will unlock your phone for about $35, but only after the end of your 3 yr contract. (or if you buy the phone outright) but I also know that this is far from the norm.

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707835)

yeah visit : www.jokerseed.com

Re:Isn't banning unlocking anti-competitive ? (1)

koan (80826) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708505)

"would have thought US had more protection"

We still have our guns.

FIRST POST (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707427)

I UNLOCKED IT!!!!!

Re:FIRST POST (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707787)

Go douche, you skank.

Re:FIRST POST (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707845)

Dear Customer,

    We apologize for the shitty service that resulted in your failure to get first post but this was due to our routine packet inspections designed to improve your service. During these scans we have detected an unauthorized software on your smartphone and have remotely disabled your device. To discuss the deactivation of our block and reset of your device please call +1-OWN-YOU2. There is a processing charge of $79 to re-enable your device so please have a valid credit or debit card handy.

Regards AT&T

Paying more for locked device (3, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707443)

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?

Re:Paying more for locked device (4, Informative)

greg1104 (461138) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707481)

Likely does not mean certain in all cases. The trend toward providing unlocked phones at full price, instead of subsidized ones, will on average save people money. You can of course find a case where it doesn't. In theory having a free market will eventually level such differences, such as how T-Mobile has started unlocking more and focusing on monthly rate to seem competitive. Monopoly situations where there is only one carrier available do not operate as a free market.

Re:Paying more for locked device (1)

green1 (322787) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708513)

The problem is that in North America it's almost impossible to find any situation in which the full price phone saves you money. Because in all of North America there is only 1 carrier that allows you to pay less for service if you bring your own phone.

I have no problem with paying full price for a phone, what I have a problem with is paying full price for a phone AND paying more than full price in my contract to cover a phone I could have been given but chose not to. It's cheaper for me to take the "free" phone from the carrier every time.

Re:Paying more for locked device (5, Informative)

JC61990 (2653877) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707583)

Its called pre-paid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_mobile_virtual_network_operators [wikipedia.org] this is a list of every pre-paid carrier in the US, and what carrier they mooch off of. So if your so called "only" carrier in the area is on this list as an MVNO carrier, then you can take your unlocked phone to that provider and pay WAY WAY less than any on-contract carrier.

Re:Paying more for locked device (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707923)

That is not a list of per-paid carriers, it is a list if virtual carriers. The virtual carriers in my area all offer contract plans, and some don't even offer pre-paid at all. Furthermore, I have yet to see a pre-paid plan that is actually cheaper than a contract plan, unless you don't want to actually use the phone (ie. monthly costs are low, but calls are expensive).

This is a meme I keep hearing over and over in the last few years, that you get screwed on contracts. However, where I live anyways, it simply isn't true. You get screwed NOT going on contract here. Plus, if you see a better deal somewhere else, just call your carrier and haggle with them and they'll likely give you the good deal too. I do this about once a year and am paying way, way less than the current advertised plan prices. You can't really do that without a contract.

Re:Paying more for locked device (1)

Mousit (646085) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708265)

I think it largely depends on usage. Back before I had a smartphone, PAYG was way, way cheaper than contract. As in I paid about $25 per quarter for service. That was just voice and text though, no data at all.

Frankly though, I think the off-contract being cheaper is true for a vast amount of the U.S. Anywhere where the AT&T network is usable (I use the term "usable" subjectively of course), you can use StraightTalk, as they're an MVNO for the AT&T network. In fact their SIMs will even work in phones that are SIM-locked to AT&T. They sell SIM-only, and welcome bring-your-own-phone. StraightTalk has a $45/mo unlimited talk/text/data, and they allow smartphones on that plan (they just recently made an announcement they'll begin selling iPhones directly, and with that plan). AT&T actually makes a point of saying their PAYG plans don't allow smartphones, though you can get around that of course.

I mean, you're welcome to call AT&T and haggle with them, "Hey StraightTalk gives this deal on your network so surely you can give me a good deal!" To that I just say: good luck.

Re:Paying more for locked device (1)

green1 (322787) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708543)

Except that ALL pre-paid services where I live work out more expensive than the post-paid services.

There is no cheaper way to get cell service than with the carrier's "free" phone on a 3yr contract. Not because you don't pay for the phone, but because the carriers make sure you pay for it whether you take it or not, and because the pre-paid contracts cost more per minute and per meg then post-paid, and the minutes and megs expire if you don't use them, ensuring a minimum monthly payment to keep your phone. a monthly payment that is more than a cheap post-paid plan which comes with more features.

Pre-paid plans where I live are for suckers afraid of commitment and willing to pay through the nose to avoid being "locked in" to a cheaper plan.

same network no contract price (2)

raymorris (2726007) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707615)

the phone subsidy is there to sell pricey contracts. If your don't want the subsidy, look at the network's no-contract affiliate.

Re:Paying more for locked device (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707677)

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?

You cite a case which doesn't apply to most people.

You are stupid.

Do not breed.

Re:Paying more for locked device (1)

jittles (1613415) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707743)

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?

You obviously live in a rural paradise. I switched from AT&T (where I had a massive corporate discount) to Sprint after AT&T changed the way that they calculated discounts. It was then $20 a month cheaper to be on Sprint. After my contract ended there, I bought an unlocked smart phone and switched to Walmart Family mobile (AKA T-mobile) and am paying less for unlimited everything on two lines than I was with 1 line on Sprint. My unlocked smartphone has already paid for itself in the first year. I'm hoping to keep it for ~4 more years and save thousands of dollars.

Re:Paying more for locked device (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707769)

I bought my unlocked phone for $300 brand new and have only spent about $200 additional in prepaid service fees for the past two years. On a contract I would have paid $30-$50/month, which would have come out to be a lot more.

Re:Paying more for locked device (0)

xaxa (988988) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707935)

I bought an HTC Desire unlocked but subsidised, on a 2-year contract. I spent a few hours finding the best online deal: it was £17.50/month, which worked out to £420, roughly the retail price of the phone, so I essentially got the service (unlimited internet, texts, 400 minutes) free for two years.

The contract ended in September, but I was a bit disorganised and had a couple of foreign trips, so it's taken me until yesterday to sort out a new contract. I'll be paying £6.90/month for 500MB internet, 5000 texts and 400 minutes. (I tried to get another really good deal, the same contract but for £3/month, but suspiciously "failed the credit check"... hmmm)

Re:Paying more for locked device (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708103)

In wish I lived in the UK. I know a couple people who looked and looked for cheapest per month cellphones they could find (for emergency phones), and they both ended on (two different) $10/month plans. For that they get... 100 minutes. No data. No texts.

I've personally worked very hard to get the best plan plus deals possible, doing a lot of research and haggling, and I'm paying $50/month for unlimited everything. It's about half what you'd for a good advertised plan here (pre-paids are terrible for actual usage).

Re:Paying more for locked device (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708017)

I'm guessing you don't actually use your phone much. The pre paid plans where I live are great if you want an emergency phone or make one call a week and don't use any data, but for regular usage they are extremely expensive. This may all vary by locale, but my experience so far has been that you get the cheapest phone costs by getting a steep subsidy on a good contract plan, and then haggling for an even better plan.

Re:Paying more for locked device (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707947)

The paragraph isn't factoring a monthly discount for bringing your own phone. It's talking about the savings possible from avoiding roaming charges when on international travel.

This ruling may be a blessing in disguise as it may push more people to buy their phones outright and seek providers that don't build the subsidy into their plan pricing. As others have already mentioned, there is a mnvo option available for all the big carrier networks. You make compromises going with a mvno but only when enough customers vote with their $$ will the big carriers be forced to offer the option of unsubsidized plans.

I was unlocking phones before they "allowed it" (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707575)

...and I'll be unlocking them now that they've made it "illegal". I just don't fucking care what the United States government has to say about anything, anymore. They've lost all credibility in the eyes of most intelligent, thinking people.

Re:I was unlocking phones before they "allowed it" (2, Funny)

Whiteox (919863) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707645)

but Corporations are people too!

Re:I was unlocking phones before they "allowed it" (1)

greg1104 (461138) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707713)

Only terrorists unlock their phones illegally! Enjoy your stay at the FEMA camp!

is it all about the software on the phone? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#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?

Re:is it all about the software on the phone? (1)

GeorgeMonroy (784609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707695)

They are the same! Software is used to network lock your phone. =)

Re:is it all about the software on the phone? (2)

the_B0fh (208483) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707701)

The DCMA problem is in the part that you cannot flash, O Mighty Open Sourcerer.

You do realize that you don't normally flash the phony bits right? That's why the Nexus on Verizon had issues being upgraded, etc etc.

Re:is it all about the software on the phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707737)

This is about unlocking phones to be used on other carriers, not rooting it to install a different OS. It's not the same thing.

jailbreaking is still ok (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707941)

jailbreaking is still ok.

Re:is it all about the software on the phone? (1)

anagama (611277) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708223)

What strikes me even more is the fact that it was the Librarian of Library of Congress who made this a crime. Seriously? The Librarian? It sort of sheds light on Harvey Silverberg's estimate that people commit three Federal felonies per day -- unwittingly but intent is no longer a factor.

See myth three: https://secure.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/20/myths-of-the-criminal-justice-system_n_879768.html [huffingtonpost.com]

Because the firmware's copyright? (5, Interesting)

xaxa (988988) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707649)

FTA:

Why is it illegal to unlock a smartphone?
Because unlocking a phone requires making changes to its firmware – software that is copyrighted and owned by your carrier – which would be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

I don't understand. If I buy a book, and make some edits (cross out some paragraphs, change some words) that's not illegal. Perhaps it would be if I distributed the book (or copies of it). Selling pens to make the edits isn't illegal either.

How is changing firmware different?

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (2)

the_B0fh (208483) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707715)

Because code is different by law. If you don't like it, get it changed.

And don't think book publishers are not trying to do that "not sold, only licensed" shit as well.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (5, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707721)

Ah, my question is answered in the next part of the article:

Furthermore, new court decisions have changed the interpretation of the law. In 2010, the Ninth Circuit court decided in Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc that we cell phone owners do not actually “own” the software running our phones. Instead, we are only “licensing” this software – a key difference – which means that we don’t have a right to alter that software. This also played a role in the Librarian’s decision.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (2)

bicho (144895) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708149)

But flashing a memory is not altering the software, it's altering the memory, isn't it? The contents of the memory is not the original software any more.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (5, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708151)

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.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708299)

What counts as "altering" the software? If you change the wallpaper, change the volume, install some apps, make your preferred app the default for certain actions instead of the pre-installed one? Unlocking is usually as simple as entering a code that sets a flag in some configuration file, it doesn't actually alter the code that runs.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707749)

Actually, I think this is wrong. IIRC from the last time I unlocked a phone, there is a screen where one enters an unlock code. That already seems to be provided in firmware for exactly this purpose. So nothing is getting modified.

Once the code is entered, it is stored in the phone in a location (apparently) provided for this purpose. Subsequently, each time the phone bots up, it looks at this location first rather than having to look on the carrier's SIM for a code.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707751)

Since the kernel of an Android phone is Linux, shouldn't the GPL figure in here? After all, I can modify the kernel all I want given the license. Perhaps a kernel module distributed allowing root access and unlock of firmware.

And I still haven't figured out how "copyright" should figure in here either. How is rooting / unlocking circumventing copyright. Especially given the carrier doesn't own copyright of the firmware....

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707881)

If the firmware replaces the device's original firmware wholesale, it's not "modification" of the copyrighted software.

Where's the Cracked Phone Linux? Is everyone afraid of regulators being pissy about FOSS? What are they going to do, hunt you down like a pirate radio station? Not likely. Especially if the new firmware follows the functionality of the device closely and doesn't deviate from the acceptable norms.

And it's not a DMCA violation if you aren't using their original code. Clean-room reverse engineering can solve this, both technically and legally. The rest of it is up to personal property rights, which are politically unsafe to modify in the US.

The only drawback is that this is a lot of work.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707929)

I don't understand. If I buy a book, and make some edits (cross out some paragraphs, change some words) that's not illegal. Perhaps it would be if I distributed the book (or copies of it). Selling pens to make the edits isn't illegal either.

It's even more illegal than removing furniture and mattress tags. You should have posted AC- they're coming for you now boy.

(Oh no- my captcha word is "worries"!)

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (5, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708027)

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.

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (1)

RealTime (3392) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708221)

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).

Actually, no, this should not be a violation of copyright as it seems very much like a parody of the original work, which is recognized as a form of Fair Use. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (5, Interesting)

Cinder6 (894572) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708051)

Why is it illegal to unlock a smartphone?
Because unlocking a phone requires making changes to its firmware – software that is copyrighted and owned by your carrier – which would be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

IANAL, but I'm confused. I thought the "point" of the DMCA was to crack down on copyright violations. Code modification would be a DMCA violation if it allowed you to violate copyright, such as bypassing DRM.

"Changing" the copyrighted carrier code doesn't seem to violate copyright, as I understand it, as you are not under legal obligation to use a particular carrier (there's even a clause that allows you to break contract, for a price). Also, what "changes" does the unlocking process commit? If it's simply code removal, then, simply uninstalling a game from your computer is a DMCA violation by extension.

Of course, I'm trying to make sense of something that is inherently illogical. Why is this a DMCA violation, and modding Skyrim isn't? Or is modding Skyrim a violation, and Bethesda simply allows it?

Re:Because the firmware's copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708283)

Bullshit. Unlocking my Galaxy S II was done via twiddling a bit in NVRAM. That's not even firmware. It angers me that they can justify crap like this to ram down stupid laws like that.

compatibility issues? (5, Insightful)

metalmaster (1005171) | about a year and a half ago | (#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

Re:compatibility issues? (1)

iamgnat (1015755) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707809)

If carrier's want a BYOD to work they need to offer cheaper rates.

That's just it though. They DON'T want BYOD to work as they make more from the subsidized lock in contracts over the course of the typical 2 year term.

Do the right thing, unlock it. (5, Insightful)

bcdonadio (2821809) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707679)

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.

Use different firmware? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707767)

" Because unlocking a phone requires making changes to its firmware – software that is copyrighted and owned by your carrier – which would be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)."

But I own the hardware? So I can install anything I like, right? Or am I forced to suck whatever they throw at me?

Not viable (5, Interesting)

xenobyte (446878) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707801)

The locked subsidized phone model is not viable, at least not here in Denmark.

A year or so ago all the major carriers here agreed that they would stop the subsidizing and thus the locking of new phones. The value of the phone simply did not match how much the forced subscription (6 months) would yield and as many customers simply switched phone and carrier every 6 months, they consistently lost money.

So now you either pay the full price for the new phone or in installments on your phone bill. If you end your subscription after the first 6 months but before the phone was paid for, you had to pay the remainder in order to end the contract. Simple and avoids the creation of stupid laws to fix a broken business model.

Re: What You Need To Know About Phone Unlocking (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707821)

"Keep your mouth shut and never rat on your friends."

Re: What You Need To Know About Phone Unlocking (1)

2phar (137027) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708597)

But this is the USA. Wouldn't it be possible for the carriers to report when a phone IMEI that is supposed to be locked to a different network shows up on theirs? Heck that could even be made a legal obligation.

Abroad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707847)

What happens if I unlock my phone while I'm abroad?

Re:Abroad? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708371)

I don't think your gender during the unlock process matters.

Is it legal to destroy said phone? (3, Insightful)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707851)

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

Contracts (1)

dadelbunts (1727498) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707867)

Arent most of these devices offered at a discount if you sign a contract? I have always use prepaid and paid full price for my phones so i dont know. If so i could understand why they would get upset, since they provided you a greatly discounted phone at their loss, in exchange for the promise of your business.

Re:Contracts (1)

Cinder6 (894572) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708131)

Yes. However, if you break contract, you have to pay an early termination fee (and I think in some cases you have to give back your phone if it's early enough in the contract).

Was this necessary? (1)

nanospook (521118) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707887)

I don't understand why this law was necessary. If I take my phone some where else, I will have to break my contract with the phone company or pay for two plans. If I cancel my plan, I pay a termination fee that results in the phone company getting their subsidized portion of the phone back (financially). Everyone walks away and calls it quits. The phone goes with me because I paid for it in full. Also, if the phone companies all have policies allowing you to go out of the country and arrange to swap your SIMS, again what was the point? Where is the damage being done if I should unlock my phone? If we are going to have DCMA protection of copyrighted software./firmware, it should be aimed at situations where replication of a copyright material is being made.

Re:Was this necessary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708129)

Where is the damage being done if I should unlock my phone?
You may break your contract, then the phone companies cannot "project" you being a subscriber forever, or at least til the end of your contract and they would have to lower their future income since they can't use this accounting trick.

This only applies to newly purchased phones (2)

ghack (454608) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707949)

My understanding is that this only applies to newly purchased phones, starting today, 1/27.

Any phone purchased on 1/26 or before can still be legally unlocked.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

they should be forced to unlock / offer lo roaming (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707961)

they should be forced to unlock / offer low cost roaming not $10+ a meg roaming fees.

First Sale (1)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | about a year and a half ago | (#42707971)

Remember it?

Re:First Sale (1)

BradleyUffner (103496) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708211)

This has nothing to do with First Sale; it doesn't affect your ability to sell the phone. In-fact, there are specific exception in place for used phones. It even opens a huge loop-hole for unlocking. As used phones are exempt from this decisions all you need to do it "sell" your phone to the person unlocking it for say $1, let them unlock it, and then "buy" it back for $1.

GPL? Replace firmware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42707981)

Isn't there (much?) GPLed code in phones? Has anyone looked into this? Of course it would require reverse-engineering and even that won't prove what the source code is.

So how about just replacing the code altogether?

Re:GPL? Replace firmware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708595)

The problem is that usually the carrier lock is not on the code you can modify (i.e. not in the general software ROM, where the OS is), but rather in the radio chip which is most likely running closed source software.

Buy your phone retail. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708031)

I bought my iphone from apple's website for full fetail. went month-to-month with one phone company, then just changed the sim card to change providers. definitely the way to go!

one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708047)

Just because there is a law against doing something, doesn't necessarily make it right. Laws provide a scaffold which enables an orderly society to coalesce, but every once in a blue moon we need to ditch the old scaffold in favor of a new one - that time is approaching.

If we all followed the law, segregation might still be in effect, alcohol would still be illegal, some of the most insightful scientific and philosophical ideas may have never been written down on paper prior to the age of enlightenment. Apple is now a hindrance to technological progress and they will pay the price for it.

issue ? (1)

Tom (822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708061)

Some more background info for us non-US readers, please?

I don't see the issue here. I've bought my iPhone and then got a cell phone contract for them that didn't include a phone, so no subsidies and no unlocking required.

If the carrier pays the phone for you (and you pay him back over time) then they seem to have a legit interest that you don't say "thanks" and take your business elsewhere before the refinancing time is up.

So what's the issue here?

Re:issue ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708241)

"I don't see the issue here."

Well, unless you're completely blind to your rights and freedoms I would say, "nothing". However, it doesn't take a genius to see how this rule is far-reaching. You can't unlock a phone, period. Yes, it makes sense that a carrier doesn't want someone to run off with their phone if the contract was meant to pay for the device. That's different from blatantly crapping on your ability to modify a device that you purchased.

Altering the firmware? I think someone got duped. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708107)

From what I understand of the unlocking process, firmware itself is not altered assuming I still member what firmware is from my firmware development years. Doesn't unlocking it just set an access code?

I seem to recall being able to unlock and re-lock certain phones in the past without a need to upgrade the firmwarw.

Re:Altering the firmware? I think someone got dupe (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708423)

Copyright doesn't enter into it. The process of "unlocking" is an unauthorized (by the creator) circumvention of digital rights management. Boom - against the law - game, set, match.

Who is Emperor of the USA now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708119)

I thought Obama was emperor. Oh wait- the Supreme Court. No, the EPA. Now it's the Librarian of Congress? When can I be Emperor for a day?

OK, my lame humor aside- I'm growing more and more frustrated with these Executive Branch Orders. I thought We the People ruled through our Congress. I'm sorry, but if I buy that phone, it's mine to modify. If I void my warranty, so be it.

OK, lets take this to extremes: if I buy a car and change the look, add a spoiler, ground effects, whatever, I'm now violating someone's copyrighted design, right? And it's not hidden from public sight- I'm out in public showing off my willful desecration of someone's original work.

Is there any way we can take back our own government?

All you need to know... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708247)

All you need to know is that this only applies to phones under a cellular contract. Cellular contracts are awful things to begin with and now they are even worse. The only thing that makes people sign them is the high price of phones which WILL go down. In a few years and smartphones will be $50. Granted, the carriers will find some excuse to charge $500 for them, but if you've got half a brain in your head you'll just buy your phone outright and avoid the contract.

In the meantime there's Walmart. They now sell unlocked, prepaid smartphones. No contract, unlimited talk, text and data for $50/month (prepaid) I believe it's $60 for international calling. It's on the Verizon network so coverage is better than most. I don't generally shill for Walmart but this is by far the best cellular deal out there. I've even heard you can get them to transfer certain phones from other carriers (Verizon for example) I'll be losing my work phone in about 6 months and I'll be going strait to walmart after work.

I could be wrong but ... (2)

troll -1 (956834) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708287)

It seems like Verizon and AT&T spend millions that they collect from their monopoly of the spectrum and give it to politicians to who then make laws in their favor. http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?id=B08&year=a [opensecrets.org]

The government sales of the free spectrum to the highest bidder is one of the biggest scams ever. Carrier-less mesh networking technology has been a viable alternative for a long time ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesh_networking [wikipedia.org] ) but the government persists in licensing the most useful spectrum frequencies to the highest bidder for billions of dollars ( http://wireless.fcc.gov/auctions/default.htm?job=about_auctions [fcc.gov] ) while restricting the unlicensed spectrum like 802.11 to limited frequencies with severe power restrictions.

This has (almost) nothing to do with copyright (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708411)

This is based on the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA - and act which is not really about copyright but rather about encryption and the legality of removing encryption. Nothing about copyright changed in the DMCA. Except that now instead of having to actually violate copyright to be in violation of a law, you simply need to access copyrighted material you have purchased or licensed without using the method of access supplied by the content provider to be in violation.

I would love (LOVE) to find out which congressmen have, or have family members, with ripped material in their possession and go black-ops apeshit on their houses. Because I can guarantee you that most* of them never really figured that this would be the result; their handlers simply told them that this was absolutely necessary to stem piracy and save everything that is good an wholesome in the universe from evil hackers.

*The rest are actively in bed with the labels and would crush anyone who stands between them and an augmented payday. No party has a monopoly on either side.

Re:This has (almost) nothing to do with copyright (1)

koan (80826) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708497)

There are way to many stupid people in the World, and I would love to see you go "black-ops apeshit" on congress too.

The solution is simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42708473)

Take/send your phone outside the US and unlock it there. The DMCA prohibits the act of unlocking, not the possession of an unlocked device. Fortunately that bought and paid for piece of crap legislation only applies in the land of the economically enslaved, so unlocking outside the US is still perfectly legal. I see a big business opportunity in the making.

huh (1)

koan (80826) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708483)

"The primary reason cited by the Librarian is, there are an increasing number of phones you can buy that come unlocked. Apple and its carrier partners sell the iPhone 5 unlocked, for example. Google’s Nexus 4 also comes unlocked. T-Mobile has plans to offer more of its phones unlocked. And retailers like Best Buy offer all sorts of unlocked phones. In short, the Librarian decided that there’s no reason to alter the DMCA to allow people to unlock any phone since people can easily buy an unlocked phone nowadays, if they choose to do so."

Now that it's "illegal" one wonders how long unlocked phones will continue to be offered, otherwise why make it illegal?

All you need to know is: tyrants oppress you (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about a year and a half ago | (#42708485)

As I said earlier in that "-1 Insightful" comment, [slashdot.org] this is just another theft of individual liberties.

Government is stealing individual freedoms. Either the phone is your private property or it is not.

If the phone is your private property, then government is supposed to PROTECT your private property, not steal it from you and punish you for doing whatever you want with it. Instead the politicians buy your votes with the promise of free lunch (which by the way, always ends up much more costly than if you just paid for the services you want to get out of pocket, and that 'free lunch' ends up destroying your economy, which is even a greater cost) and then you vote your individual freedoms away and elect politicians who promise and deliver this theft.

They steal your individual liberties to sell them to the highest bidder. That is what politics is all about, that is why people go to politics, the entire government model, once it is no longer based on the law, on the Constitution, that entire model is theft, racketeering, extortion, bribery and corruption of all types.

Government has destroyed your individual liberties, it is tyranny, and this is just a small example of it.

Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 y.o. Tunisian who burned himself alive because of government oppression, he became the trigger for the people removing the oppressive tyrannical government from power.

Aaron Schwartz was a 26 y.o. American who killed himself because of government oppression, where are all the people with guns, you have the 2nd amendment, you have more guns than Tunisians, you are SUPPOSED to remove tyrannical oppressive regime from power, what is going on?

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?