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.