A new ruling valid for three years issued by the U.S. Copyright Office makes it so that you can’t be prosecuted under copyright law if you unlock your phone to sign up with a new carrier. The only catch: you have to own the phone.
This is being consider bad news by some carriers, which have benefited from the inability of their customers to make a switch easily. For a while now, many carriers have been claiming that the locked phones for sale were copyrighted and could only be unlocked by the carriers themselves. But expect all of that to change for at least the next three years.
While bad news for carriers, this is good news for you and me. By buying an unlocked phone (which are likely to become more available), you may be able to avoid extending your service contract, which is normally required by carriers that offer discounted phones.
Also, unlocking a phone can often be as easy as entering a six digit unlock key, though it may require changing the phone’s software. Up until now, if you wanted to unlock your phone to switch to another provider, the easiest way was to buy a code from online retailers that specialize in unlocking phones, costing around $10 to $30. But now large retailers may get it on the action.
Lawsuits are already on the rise. Tracfone
Wireless Inc., the largest provider of pay-as-you-go cellphone
services in the U.S., sued the Copyright Office in Florida hoping to reverse the decision.
But carriers will not be required to unlock phones for you, though some will do it if requested: T-Mobile after 90 days of service and Cingular after you “fulfill the terms” of your contract. Carriers aren’t excited about it, as they liked their old model of getting repaid via service contracts for phones that they usually sell below their cost.
Sprint Nextel, the third largest U.S. network by subscriber count, reiterated that it will not unlock phones or active phones sold by
other carriers. “Sprint Nextel takes great care in protecting and optimizing
its network, and locking is one of the protective measures that we
employ,” was the cover up explanation given by Sprint spokesman Travis Sowders.
Verizon, on the other hand, says it doesn’t lock phones for most customers and will activate phones not sold by Verizon, provided they’ll work on the network, explains spokeswoman Debra
Lewis. An example given: Verizon will activate a Motorola Razr originally sold by Sprint, but if certain software isn’t installed, some Verizon services may not work (VCast, Get It Now, etc.).
However each provider reacts, they’re all on the same playing field with this change. Kudos to the U.S. government for empowering the consumer.