A change to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act means that come Saturday some smartphone owners will be considered criminals if they unlock their mobile device without carrier authorization. Once the new DMCA interpretation goes into effect, mobile devices purchased on or after January 26 must be unlocked for use on other carriers through official channels instead of third-party hacks, and anyone that violates that rule could potentially find themselves in court.
New DMCA change puts unauthorized smartphone unlockers in hot water
Unlocking frees mobile phones from use on a single cell service, and is a handy feature for users that travel internationally since they can buy local SIM cards to avoid expensive roaming fees. It's also nice when selling a used iPhone since it frees up the smartphone for carriers such as T-Mobile instead of limiting it to just AT&T.
In the Librarian of Congress' ruling, it stated,
In light of carriers' current unlocking policies and the ready availability of new unlocked phones in the marketplace, the record did not support an exemption for newly purchased phones. Looking to precedents in copyright law, the Register recommended that the class designated by the Librarian include a 90-day transitional period to allow unlocking by those who may acquire phones shortly after the new exemption goes into effect.
Apple and its carrier partners do offer unlocked iPhones, and the cell service providers also offer unlock options for users that meet certain requirements -- typically having completed the terms of their service contract, or at least completing a set percentage of their contract.
The change in the DCMA policy doesn't, however, stop anyone from unlocking their mobile phone outside of carrier channels and it isn't likely that those third-party hacks will disappear. Federal agents won't likely start roaming the streets looking for unlocked mobile phones, either, but knowing the potential for legal action is there may keep at least some people from unlocking their iPhones or other smartphones before selling them.
[Thanks to Tech News Daily for the heads up.]