After it became illegal to unlock carrier cell phones thanks to the DMCA, a ton of backlash started up to try and get the laws changed back. After tons of petitioning, a bill finally made its way to the Senate floor, and after a few months of work, it’s finally being signed into law. The appropriately titled Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act makes it perfectly legal for a consumer to unlock their handset once their service contract with their carrier expires, allowing them to take the device to another compatible carrier if they so choose.
About this time last year, an small uproar was sweeping over the Internet thanks to action taken by the Library of Congress to make unlocking cell phones illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The Library of Congress ruling took effect on January 26, 2013 and any cell phone purchased after that date cannot be unlocked, at least not legally. In response, an online petition was created on the White House web site and in a matter of days surpassed the 100,000 signature threshold triggering a response. President Obama responded as hoped, agreeing with the petition that consumers should have the freedom to unlock their devices.
Last month a new rule from the Library of Congress made it illegal to unlock a mobile phone to use on another network. This means that owners of phones that are not subsidized or that are no longer “under contract” cannot just take their phone to another carrier for service. Many believe this gives the carriers far too much power over consumers. In response, a petition was started on the White House web site requesting the Librarian of Congress to rescind their recent decision or asking the Obama administration to back legislation to make unlocking legal.
The petition was started on January 24, 2013 and today hit the 100,000 signature threshold required for an official response from the White House. This news is a good sign and hopefully will help the President and perhaps Congress realize that there is a problem. Whether they actually do anything about it remains to be seen as they could opt to not take up the cause, much like their recent decision regarding construction of a death star.
source: The White House
Yes, it is now illegal for users to unlock mobile phones to use on another network and most of us are not too happy about it. The good thing is the change in legal status, a direct result of the Library Of Congress ruling we told you about in October, will probably not affect too many of us. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) still protects our right to unlock the bootloader but it stripped away our ability to lawfully unlock a cell phone purchased from a carrier even after we’ve fulfilled our contractual obligation.
For example, a phone purchased from AT&T cannot legally be unlocked by the user (or third party) to be used on T-Mobile. The carrier, on the other hand, faces no new restrictions and in many cases will unlock devices of customers in good standing. Phones on Verizon & Sprint are unaffected since they are CDMA networks with handsets that aren’t really locked the same way GSM phones are locked. Purchase an unlocked phone, like the Nexus 4, and this becomes a non-issue.
The latest ruling in the ever complicated Digital Millennium Copyright Act continues to list smartphones as exempt from the rules prohibiting rooting and Jailbraking as it did in 2010. Good news if you’re waiting for the Nexus 4, not so good if you’re waiting for the Nexus 10; tablets are not included in the exceptions. The Library Of Congress listed five categories of exemptions which will go into effect on October 28, 2012 and will be valid for three years.
The Library of Congress found the definition of “tablet” to be too broad. The ruling determined “the record lacked a sufficient basis to develop an appropriate definition for the ‘tablet’ category of devices, a necessary predicate to extending the exemption beyond smartphones.” They cited “an e-book reading device might be considered a ‘tablet,’ as might a handheld video game device or a laptop computer.”
In 2010 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) added an exemption that made modifying copyrighted software legal for the purposes of unlocking phones. At the time, this was targeted at protecting iPhone owners from Apple who was trying to establish a legal precedent for suing its own customers. In any case, the exemption applies to any cell phone, including all Android phones sold in the United States. However, it wasn’t made to last. In fact it’s set to expire later this year. Surely we can’t stand idly by.
Leading the charge is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). They’re petitioning the Copyright Office to make the exemption permanent, while at the same time suggesting an expansion of the definition to “personal computing devices”, so as to include tablets, game consoles, & even PCs. They’re petition is available online and they are collecting signatures as well as personal commentary concerning why you support extending and amending the exemption. If you’re willing to help the cause, make sure you do so by February 10th.
Wait isn’t this about jailbreaking? Isn’t that an iOS thing? So how does this affect Android?
You may have heard that yesterday, the Library of Congress made a few exceptions concerning the legality of jailbreaking or rooting your handest. CTIA, however, would like to send you a friendly reminder about why there was so much controversy over the subject in the first place. According to CTIA:
Wireless carriers and handset makers go to great lengths to protect their customer’s privacy by blocking spam, filtering for viruses, and testing software that is sold through their portals. Unfortunately, ‘jailbreaking,’ or other modifications to a wireless phone’s operating system, increases a consumer’s risk for malware, spyware and other vulnerabilities.
In other words, before you go all root-happy, make sure you know what you’re doing. Opening up the filesystem of your handset, while extremely beneficial, does have it’s risks. We’re not discouraging, we’re simply saying that you should be sure to do your research before you go on an adventure out of userland.