New DMCA rule requiring carrier permission for legal phone unlocks to go into effect on Jan. 26Alex Wagner - Senior News Editor
Take note, frequent phone unlockers, because a recent update to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that disallows mobile phone owners from unlocking their devices without carrier permission is set to go into effect this weekend. Back in late October, the Librarian of Congress updated the DMCA with an exemption that only allows phone owners to unlock their handset after getting permission to do so from their carrier. The DMCA previously allowed users to bypass a phone's security to unlock it for use on another network. However, a 2010 decision in the case of Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc. determined that when a person buys a piece of software, he or she is merely licensing it and does not actually own it. The CTIA went on to cite arguments from multiple carriers that said that the software on phones is being licensed to their customers and not sold to them.
When the new exemption was announced, it was revealed that there was a "90-day transitional period" in which customers buying new phones could still unlock them on their own. That period is coming to an end on Jan. 26, though, meaning that customers buying new phones after Saturday will need a carrier's permission before they can unlock the devices. The Federal Register explains that with the current unlocking policies of the carriers, along with the expanded availability of handsets that are unlocked out the box, another exemption allowing customers to unlock brand new devices wasn't necessary.
It does seem that carriers have become a bit more comfortable with unlocked devices, with Verizon leaving several recent handsets unlocked out of the box and AT&T agreeing to unlock the iPhones of customers that are out-of-contract. That doesn't change the fact it's kind of a bummer to think that users will soon need carrier permission to legally unlock their phones, though, especially with the rising popularity of prepaid services. Of course, unlocking services are unlikely to disappear overnight once this exemption goes into effect, but folks that want to legally take their locked handset to another carrier will soon need to get the A-OK from their original carrier before doing so. The full document from the Copyright Office can be found at the Federal Register link below.