Just Two More Days To Unlock Your Phone, Then You'll Be Breaking The Law

from the ridiculous dept

We’ve always had our concerns about the ridiculous DMCA “exemptions” process concerning circumvention of digital locks. If you don’t know, the DMCA has a strict anti-circumvention rule that says breaking digital locks, such as DRM, is itself a violation of copyright law, even if the purpose of the lock-breaking does not infringe on anyone’s copyright. As a sort of “pressure valve” every three years, people can “apply” to the Librarian of Congress for exemptions to that rule. This, of course, is completely ridiculous and backwards. We need to apply, once every three years, to use legally purchased products the way we want to without it being considered illegal? That’s crazy. But it’s the way things are set up, and it can lead to some bizarre scenarios. As we explained last year when the latest round of exemptions was announced, the Librarian of Congress took away the exemption for unlocking your phone… but provided a 90 day window.

That window ends on Sunday. In other words, unlocking your phone on Saturday: legal. Unlocking your phone on Sunday: you probably just broke the law. As the EFF properly notes, this is not what copyright law is supposed to be about:

“Arguably, locking phone users into one carrier is not at all what the DMCA was meant to do. It’s up to the courts to decide.”

I don’t even think there’s anything “arguable” about it. Copyright law has no business being involved in deciding whether or not my phone can be unlocked. It’s silly that this is an issue. It’s silly that there needed to be an exemption in the first place. And it’s silly that this exemption is being taken away. It’s for things like this that people lose respect for copyright law.

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Comments on “Just Two More Days To Unlock Your Phone, Then You'll Be Breaking The Law”

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92 Comments
John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, but that won’t really make such software hard to find. Or maybe it will push people from iPhone to Android, where you often don’t need any special software at all and when you do, the “special software” is a standard developer’s tool that will always be legally and easily available.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Do you really believe that?

All the carrier has to do is look up the device IMEI( International Mobile station Equipment Identity) and run a check to see if it is locked, probably through some of the existing malware they put on the phones. They could also check a cross reference a list to see if that IMEI was unlocked by a carrier. Then they can just send a list to the Feds, say once a week. The Feds can then round all the terrible hacker thieves up and put them in prison.

Will they do that? I doubt it for out of contract phones, especially since the carriers have to unlock them if you are out of contract and the account is in good standing. It is certainly in the realm of possibilities, even likely, for those who get contract phones and leave the carrier prior to the end of their contract and don’t fork over the early termination fee.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That would be absolutely the DUMBEST thing for the carriers to do and they know it. If they started doing that then the backlash and PR nightmare they would have on their hands would be of epic proportions and unlike the broadband market, the mobile service market has LOTS of competition. Currently their tactic is to try to scare people with the “You’ll void your warranty” routine which is enough to keep many people from taking the leap. The rest they just tolerate as long as the customers don’t abuse the capabilities of their rooted phones. At the end of the day they want people to keep paying them monthly.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

We aren’t talking about what is smart for them to do, but what is possible for them to do. The AC said “It’s completely unenforceable anyway.” That is factually incorrect.

Now if we want to talk about what is smart for them to do that is a different story.

By the way ‘Unlocking’ a phone (removing the provider lock to change providers) is a totally different procedure than ‘Rooting’ a phone (to attain super user privileges).

And I quote from:
http://theunlockr.com/2010/08/27/android-101-rooting-jailbreaking-and-unlocking/

“VI. Difference between Unlocking, Rooting, and Jailbreaking

Another big question I get, is, ?If I root my phone, can I use it on another carrier?? The short answer is no but I?ll explain.

Rooting and unlocking are two completely different procedures. Rooting your phone does NOT unlock it. In order to unlock your phone and use it on a different carrier, you must either purchase an unlock code (if you have GSM phone), flash a new carrier?s firmware manually through a cable (if you have a CDMA device), or you have to alter the phone?s baseband (as with the iPhone unlocking software).
Now, this seems to become a very confusing thing for people because of the iPhone I think. Sometimes people get confused with jailbreaking and unlocking by thinking they are one in the same (understandably with a name like jailbreaking you might think you are ?setting it free?). But this is not the case. The iPhone has software to unlock it but that software is not automatically installed if you jailbreak your iPhone. The reason for the confusion, I think, is the fact that in order to use the unlocking software for the iPhone, you must have jailbroken it first (as the unlocking app needs root permissions to change the baseband, etc).”

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

The article clearly states that they are speaking about removing the carrier lock. The AC I replied to was clearly taking about rooting or jail breaking the phone.

Its an easy enough mistake to make for people that do not have a thorough understanding of the technology and terminology involved. I simply felt it was important to make the AC and others aware of the distinction.

I am fairly certain the reason for the change is to try to prevent someone from buying a subsidized phone on a two year contract then leaving the carrier prior to contract end, unlocking the phone and selling it or using it on a different carrier. A subsidized phone may cost $100, but an unlocked (no carrier restrictions) phone might cost $500. I actually have no problem with the carrier lock as long as when I fulfill my contract terms they are required to do a carrier unlock for me. The alternative is no subsidized phones (which frankly wouldn’t bother me either), but that would certainly stop a lot of people from getting a new phone every 18-24 months. I would also like a lower rate if I don’t buy a subsidized phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I know the difference.

But before you can root most phones you usually have to unlock the bootloader (ie removing a different lock on the phone).

I have never had a need to remove the carrier lock that allows it only to be used on one carrier.

It is also widely known that Carriers do not like subscribers rooting their phones as well. When I first heard about the extension of the exceptions quite some time ago, the article was more about the ability to tinker with the phone, load custom roms, make backups, etc. and how that could become technically illegal to unlock the bootloader of your phone. This was also before manufacturers like HTC were offering unlocking tools which meant using an exploit that unlocked and replaced the bootloader with a custom one was the only way to do it.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

“But before you can root most phones you usually have to unlock the bootloader (ie removing a different lock on the phone).”

This is true, but still has nothing to do with the carrier unlock. The article was clearly discussing carrier unlock.

It is true that the carriers, and even the manufacturers don’t particularly care for you rooting the phones or loading different ROMs, and that will void your warranty, but again that is not what is at risk and it is important that people understand what changed.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: I don't even think there's anything "arguable" about it.

I don’t think there’s anything “arguable” about it. This obviously is exactly what the DMCA was designed to do: take away users’ rights to any meaningful ownership of their own property. And that’s what people have been using it for ever since. This is why the DMCA needs to be repealed.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: I don't even think there's anything "arguable" about it.

The safe harbor provision of the DMCA is what protects every ISP, phone carrier, search engine, file locker, and user-uploaded content site from being sued for their users’ copyright infringement. So at best, those intermediaries are going to lobby for reform, not repeal.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I don't even think there's anything "arguable" about it.

No, actually it doesn’t. It does the exact opposite: it exposes them to additional liability that would not exist if not for the DMCA. Calling it a “safe harbor” is an Orwellian-grade abuse of the language.

If it was not for the DMCA, yes, maybe someone would have been sued. But without the shackles of the “safe harbor” provision weighing them down, they could have invoked a much stronger and more favorable legal protection: Common Carrier law, which says that they have no liability whatsoever, so long as they treat customer data in a non-discriminatory manner.

The suit would have ruled in favor of the defendant, and it would have set a precedent, and it would have happened back in the late 1990s or early 2000s, before the mega-ISP-consolidation swept through the industry. Then, by the time today rolled around, we wouldn’t even have to worry about net neutrality, as it would have already been settled by this case. Comcast and AT&T wouldn’t dare screw with our traffic for fear of losing their Common Carrier protection from liability.

That’s what the DMCA has taken from us.

Aztecian says:

I'll go quietly... more or less

My phone contract is up the end of January, so I’ll be creeping in a very suspicious manner down to my carrier and getting a new phone this coming Friday.

I’m not sure if I’m going to try it in its safe and secure state first or commit my crime (felony or misdemeanor?) so I can remove all of the safe and secure godddam bloatware right out of the box.

Either way, I shall be a criminal by Saturday morning, I’m sure. If I can’t get an exemption, may I please have a cell with a view?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nexus phones are all unlocked

This.

However, they are not TRUE Nexus phones, mainly due to the fact that they are not GSM phones, which by default are unlocked.

As for the Sprint Galaxy Nexus, I believe it received 4.2 this past week if memory serves me correctly. Through an OTA (over-the-air) update. And it can be manually downloaded for those who haven’t received the notification.

As for the Verizon version. Well, that’s no Nexus. There, I said it. When it had Verizon bloatware on it (one app or two, anything at all counts) that alone disqualified it as being a Nexus device.

Space Pirate (profile) says:

Those who forget their history are doomed. Period.

I’m not sure which of the governments actions against Bell / AT&T beginning in 1913(!) resulted in the rule; but it prohibited that monopoly from restricting what phones could connect to the network. The current lunacy in mobile phones would see to be a close analog and I am at a complete loss as to why the FCC and/or DOJ allows these mobile companies to roll back 100 or so years of policy that had given consumers choice in hardware if not service provider.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Those who forget their history are doomed. Period.

You’re at a complete loss as to why the DOJ allows this to happen? A quick google search shows that a Space Pirate has been commenting on techdirt for quite some time, so it can’t be an ignorance of current events.

Tell us, what do you define DOJ to mean? Because it can’t be the US Department of Justice.

laquaker (profile) says:

Re: Those who forget their history are doomed. Period.

1969; Carter’s suit ultimately culminated in the FCC ‘s landmark Carterfone decision …..AT&T arguments could be read to forbid the attachment of a rubber shoulder rest on the handset …. of moral support when it came to his case, Carter did not receive “a dime of financial help”
http://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1485&context=chtlj

Aztecian says:

Re: Those who forget their history are doomed. Period.

I can help you out with this one, Space. The FCC and the DOJ both combined don’t know enough about what they are regulating to fill a dramatic pause.

I’m sure when you were digging around the history of these here now telephone things–which is a fascinating and educational thing to do–you saw how confused everyone was about what they did and what Our Government should do with them.

Seems to me that by the time all of the errors (some understandable) were corrected the phone company (The Phone Company) was being driven to extinction anyway.

So as long as we call it “jailbreaking” and “unlocking”, well, those sound like things we shouldn’t do–so the default action of a regulator will be to forbid it.

Maybe we should start calling it “owning” or “personalizing” or maybe “privacy protecting”. All they read is the title anyway.

Bill in New Mexico, criminal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because that’s how laws work. They are written for one purpose, but are poorly written and vague such that later a lawyer comes along that wants to use them for something else finds it and twists it to mean whatever he wants it to mean. That’s how performing a series of routine network troubleshooting steps gets you charged with 13 felony counts for breaking a law designed to address computer and telecommunications BANK FRAUD.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds to me like AT&T greased the palms to allow unsatisfied customers in Silicon Valley to stop complaining about the quality of their network in relation to the cost of service.

If they can have a court case heard by the Supreme Court to limit class action, which causes bad PR, likely they can also open that window allowing legitimate users to unlock their phones.

That said however, if you bought a phone in the past from someone that filled their contractual obligation to poor AT&T coverage and customer service, it can often be unlocked. I suggest you do. An unlocked phone doesn’t depreciate in value as quickly because anyone can use it!

Mr. Applegate says:

Soon will be the time

I believe my contract is up in a few months. Since I won’t be able to legally unlock a subsidized phone. I guess I will need to purchase an unlocked phone. Since I won’t get a break on my monthly bill because of that I guess I will be moving to a ‘value’ carrier.

See this is a good thing, it will drive me to leave AT&T and cut my mobile phone bill in half. Just kind of sucks I need to get all 5 phones out of contract to do that.

Anonymous Coward says:

but the Librarian is happy. he got a gazillion dollars for returning to the dark ages where companies can keep you locked into their terms.
as for people losing respect for copyright, did they have it in the first place? what would the librarian say if he wanted to put thicker tread tyres on his car, but had to apply to Ford to do so? what would he say if that permission was then removed? what if he had to get permission from the maker to sell his car? would he be happy? of course not, but he would still do it! anyone from the ordinary people who do something ‘illegal’ though are locked up and the key thrown away. anything to keep control with businesses or to return it to them. similar with giving stuff from the public domain back to copyright holders. fucking ridiculous! but when your getting a nice little earner from the companies concerned, are you going to use sense and decency and look after the people or forget everyone else and look after your bank balance?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Both. I believe jailbreaking was made legal with a previous exemption, which didn’t get renewed before this one.

However, jailbreaking is considered up in the air. Not quite legal, not quite illegal. But the manufacturers, particularly Apple, will not honor a warranty on a jailbroken device. (Actually, it’s more Apple than anyone else. As rooted devices can still be covered by warranty from OEMs and many honor the warranties. Even carriers have started doing so. Previously, root meant kiss your warranty bye bye. Now, not so much. As long as you don’t buy Apple.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Jailbreaking an iDevice only technically voids your warranty though as it is completely removed if you do a restore. In which case they can never tell. If the thing is busted to the point that you can’t load the OS and do a restore, they won’t be able to tell either so they will usually honor the warranty anyway.

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