Mobile Operator Threatens Software Firm

from the how-dare-you-make-our-phones-more-useful dept

Uh oh. Someone let the lawyers out too quickly again. The issue of mobile phone unlocking is well known within a pretty small group of people. The idea is simple: most mobile operators will sell you a phone that is “locked” to their network. Since they subsidize the cost of the phone (often heavily), they don’t want you to take the cheap phone they paid for and then give all the service fees to some other company. Of course, they already lock you in with two year contracts as well, so physically locking the phone to the network is overkill — especially for users who want to travel outside the country, and would like to be able to drop in a SIM card from another operator in places where their main operator doesn’t provide service. Some people end up just buying unlocked phones, which can be pretty expensive and which can create other problems. However, for many, the solution is simply figuring out a way to unlock their existing phones. This upsets mobile operators to no end. A few months ago, one mobile operator even had some unlockers arrested for the unlocking.

This isn’t quite that bad, but an unnamed “large” mobile operator in the US is apparently pulling out the DMCA and threatening a software company that makes unlocking software. The two companies have no direct relationship, but the mobile operator claims that in unlocking the phones, the company violates the “anti-circumvention” clause of the DMCA. Again, this is exactly how we were told the DMCA would not be used. Hopefully, should this lawsuit go to court, the court will look at similar cases where Lexmark and a garage door opener company tried to use the DMCA to blatantly block competition, rather than prevent unauthorized copying. Still, the silliest thing about all of this is that the number of people who are actually interested in unlocking handsets is tiny. Most people couldn’t care any less about it. And, for the people who are unlocking (as mentioned) it’s often just so they can use the phone out of the country. Any provider that embraced unlocked phones would get more business from business travelers (who tend to spend more anyway). They’re already locking in users with ridiculously long contracts that have high termination fees, so why not let them actually use their phones how they want? It seems unlikely that they would end up “losing” any more money than they’re paying these lawyers to hassle a software company.


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Comments on “Mobile Operator Threatens Software Firm”

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10 Comments
Mark Polino (user link) says:

Cell Phone Unlocking Recommendations!

A relative of mine had an AT&T phone, after Cingular bought AT&T. My wife, a Cingular customer, was upgrading and wanted to give this relative her phone since it was still pretty new. You can’t currently use a Cingular phone with an AT&T plan. So, the Cingular Customer Service rep gave us a business card for an unlocking service that would make the Cingular phone work with AT&T. Perhaps some of these large carriers will need to sue themselves under the DCMA?

Nadine says:

Slowly but surely

There is a glimmer of hope, in both Lexmark and Skylink (garage door openers) the court affirms that DMCA 1201 (a)(1) does *not* convey a new patent right, therefore, trying to use it to lock out legitimate competitors will not be tolerated. (I wonder how this affects the bnetd case? no one has been talking about it…) The unfortunate thing though is that the Court still buys that copying and piracy is *rampant and out of control* and that it is the DMCA’s job to rectify it. -_-
Let’s hope that the lawyers of the software firm will get the courts to stick with the “does not convey new rights” decision.
Lexmark v. Static Control II (Patently-O)
http://patentlaw.typepad.com/patent/2004/10/dmca_weakened_a.html
Chamberlain v. Skylink II (Patently-O)
http://patentlaw.typepad.com/patent/2004/08/federal_circuit_12.html

spam@pbp.net says:

unlocking to travel?

I know a few people that bought unlocked phones. it has nothing to do with travelling, and everything to do with image.

“Look at me, I’m so cool. I have an unlocked phone!”

No, I’m not kidding. None of these losers travel. they just think they’re cool and l33t because they have unlocked phones.
Further proof that cell phones make people stupid.

Mike says:

Will an unlocked phone be able to work with sprint

Hi, I was wondering if anyone can help me I saw this phone I really liked and am thinking about buying it on ebay. I like my service provider sprint and am wondering if I buy this GSM phone would i be able to link it up to sprint and a sprint worker also showed me how to turn on the phone online.

Thanks in advance and hope you can answer my question

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