Trying to save a few dollars by switching wireless carriers and keeping your current phone or purchasing a used phone seems like a logical thing to do. In theory, it could help you save money on a used phone or choose the carrier of your choice without having to purchase new equipment. But as of January of this year, you may want to think twice, and keep reading, because making the switch and holding onto your handset could prove to be a costly decision.
A ruling by the Library of Congress in January has made the practice of unlocking a smartphone illegal; and we arenât talking about a small fine with a slap on the wrist. The attempt to switch carriers and unlock your old phone is punishable with a $500,000 fine and one year in jail for first time offenders. Repeat offenders can have their fines doubled. The Library of Congress, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), ruled that even though you bought your phone from a carrier, you donât own the software that makes that phone function properly. In fact, itâs only the software license that a consumer owns when they purchase a smartphone from a cell phone carrier. An unlocked phone can be purchased legally, but the price is considerably higher than a normal phone tethered to a carrierâs wireless plan.
Prior to the new rule, there had been a 90 day grace period in which cell phone users had to unlock their phone legally. This period followed a ruling in October 2012 by the U.S. Copyright Office that it was okay for users to jailbreak cell phones only (because they didnât want to lump in tablets in this category or rule on that issue). However, the DMCA ruling trumped that decision in that under DMCA rules, jailbreaking the software on the phone was illegal as the user did not own it. Essentially, a user could jailbreak the hardware, but the fact that the user does not own the software that allows the phone to function, precludes them from being able to jailbreak the software, and thus, the phone itself.
Many have criticized this ruling as being anti-competitive, giving a select few big companies protection and putting up a high barrier for entry into the market. Consumers are locked into the big box companyâs rules and regulations in terms of how they get their apps, and what they do with their phoneâs software.
This regulation imposed by the Library of Congress directly affects the used cell phone business and how we all make decisions about our cell phone provider. Taking away the option to have your cell phone unlocked is one thing; twisting a law that had its origins in protecting copyrighted material and turning its violation into a felony is something that every consumer should be aware of.
About the Author:
Lance Brusilow is a technology buff and also owns a Philadelphia court reporting services company named Brusilow+Associates. For over 30 years, Brusilow+Associates has been blending the latest in technology with customer service to better serve clientâs litigation support needs in Philadelphia.