It’s Now Illegal To SIM-Unlock your Phone, Here’s What You Need To Know About It

January 28, 2013 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Over the weekend, it officially went into effect that you cannot SIM-unlock your phone legally anymore. But before you overract or get to pissed off at the carriers. There’s a few things you need to know and understand. So we’ll take some time and explain everything so everyone knows whats going on. And that is why you come to Android Headlines, for the best android news anyways.

Back in 1998 Congress passed a law which provides copyright protection to the software that locks your cell phone to your carrier. Now this part is important, this has nothing to do with rooting, or bootloader unlocking, you can still do that and void your warranty. This only covers locking your phone to a GSM carrier through software. This doesn’t apply to CDMA carriers, because in most cases you cannot use a Sprint phone on Verizon, or vice versa. Now as a provision of this law, the Librarian of Congress is allowed to grant exceptions, and did until his October 2012 decision where he allowed the DMCA to regulate cell phone locking. Now, onto Saturday, January 26, 2013, these exceptions expired and now the software used to lock phones is covered under the same copyright law as almost every other software.

Now before you get to worried, let’s explain some of this stuff now that you know the background

First, you’ll need to realize that if you bought your phone before January 26, 2013, that none of this applies to you. The terms and conditions you agreed to when you bought your phone still applies. And everything up until January 26, 2013, is grandfathered in. So now, what about phones you bought since Saturday?

Unlocking phones to be used on another carrier without permission from the original carrier is now against the law. While that does suck, it’s not the end of the world. And as CTIA’s blog pointed out it’s not much different from driving your car. Until you’re finished paying it off, you’re not allowed to transfer the title without permission from the lien-holder. Which is basically what the subsidy is. The carrier is loaning you your device.

And now T-Mobile, AT&T and any other carrier can do what an auto-dealer can already do. And that kinda sucks. But it’s not all that bad. Especially since T-Mobile is ending subsidies.

So what does this mean for me?

There is a silver lining in this dark cloud though. The Librarian of Congress points out, carriers do have “liberal, publicly available unlocking policies.” AT&T and Verizon will unlock your phone once you meet their criteria. Now this criteria has not changed now that this law is in effect. Nine times out of ten, they will send you your unlock code if your bill is current and you have a legitimate need to use it. Now the questionable area is using third-party unlocking sites. According to this law, these sites will be committing a crime if they do this sort of business in the US. And here’s the kicker, you are also committing a crime if you knowingly use their services in the US. Now the penalties for those who  unlock phones for a business or for money, the punishment is a bit more severe, which includes Jail time.

So How do I unlock my phone Now?

So like I said, not much has changed. If you need to unlock your phone, just call your carrier’s customer service department and ask them. More than likely they will say yes, as long as your account is in good standing, which means your total amount due should be $0 or in the negative (meaning they owe you money). What are some legit reasons for unlocking your phone? Well going on a trip where the carrier doesn’t have service, like say Barcelona, and you’d like to put a SIM in your device from a carrier that does have coverage over there. Or you need to use your phone where the carrier has poor coverage. Anything like this is legitimate for an unlock code. In simplest terms, you can just explain to them why the same way they explain unlimited.

So there you have it. It’s not that huge of a deal, it hasn’t even really changed anything. So I hope this helps calm everyone down and brings everyone back to reality. As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave them below and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability.

Image Source: Norebbo