As of Jan. 26, 2013, unlocking a Smartphone is officially illegal on all phones bought from mobile carriers. This ruling came as a disappointment for many users who enjoy the benefits of an unlocked phone, but ultimately protects the rights of the carriers. By unlocking a Smartphone, the user will then have the ability to use that phone under any network carrier. For example, not every mobile carrier offers the Droid series, a type of Smartphone that is exclusively available at Verizon. However, by buying the phone at Verizon and then unlocking it, a user would be able to use conveniences of a Droid phone, but under a different network such as AT&T or Sprint.
The Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), document here, which made unlocking a phone illegal based on copyright infringement. Under this new law, anyone who unlocks a Smartphone can be charged and punished with a civil suit by the carrier for damages as high as $2500. Also, if someone were to unlock a phone and then sell it to receive monetary compensation, the new law states it would be considered a criminal act and punishable with prison time and much higher fines.
Now, for the most part, the average Smartphone owner does not unlock a phone, but it can be convenient for those tech savvy individuals as well as those who have gotten a new phone and want to sell the old one. Many people rely on unlocking a phone to make it more marketable to consumers since an unlocked phone can go to any user under any phone plan. Under the new law, only a single carrier phone, such as Sprint, can be used under the Sprint network which means that anyone selling a Sprint phone must sell it to another Sprint customer.
To those who may be bummed about this new law, there is always to option of buy a phone that is unlocked from the get go. Many phone companies such as Apple’s iphone purposely sell unlocked phones to allow anyone under any carrier the opportunity to have an iphone. However, the perk to buying a phone from a carrier under contract is that a $600 phone is going to cost more along the lines of $200-$300, while buying an unlocked phone will cost you that original $600 base price.