Apple Sued for Locking iPhones to AT&T

Apple has been hit with a new iPhone lawsuit, but instead of a competitor claiming patent infringement, this one comes from customers claiming that locking the handset to AT&T's wireless network violates the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Apple sued for locking iPhones to AT&T's networkApple sued for locking iPhones to AT&T's network

The lawsuit was filed by Zach Ward and Thomas Buchar in U.S. District Court in Northern California, according to CNET, and alleges that Apple failed to get consent from customers to lock their iPhones to AT&T. The lawsuit has its roots in the original iPhone launch in 2007 when AT&T was Apple's exclusive cell service partner as part of a five-year deal.

"Through these actions, Apple has unlawfully stifled competition, reduced output and consumer choice, and artificially increased prices in the aftermarkets for iPhone voice and data services," the lawsuit stated, and added that by including the software locks binding the iPhone to AT&T Apple violated the Sherman Act provision prohibiting monopoly abuse.

Mr. Ward and Mr. Buchar likely chose to target Apple instead of AT&T since similar lawsuits that focused on the cell service provider failed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that customers can't file class action lawsuits against carriers because of contract terms.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to force Apple to give iPhone owners unlock codes on request regardless of their current AT&T contract status, to make Apple include a full disclosure that handsets are locked to specific carriers, and to get contractual consent from users for the limitation. Of course, they're also asking for monetary damages.

While iPhones sold for the AT&T network are locked to the carrier, users can legitimately unlock their phone so it can be used on other compatible networks, like T-Mobile. AT&T doesn't charge for the unlock process, although the company does limit the service to users that have already fulfilled their contract.

Apple hasn't commented on the case.