Friday, August 31, 2007

Is iPhone Unlocking Legal?

Today is the day that George Hotz is planning to trade in his unlocked iPhone for a Nissan 350Z sports car and three new iPhones. Hotz figured out a ten-step process to unlock his iPhone so it can be used on other cell-phone networks. Most cell phone service providers electronically 'lock' the phone so that it can only be used with their service.

An article in Business Week suggests that Apple can not stop individuals from unlocking the iPhone. Individual users are already allowed to unlock their own phones under an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that the U.S. Copyright Office issued last November. The exemption, in force until 2009, applies to:

"computer programs…that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network."
While lawyers for Apple and AT&T have tried to deter hackers from unlocking iPhones to protect the monthly service charges they receive, it does appear that individual may be within their legal rights to unlock an iPhone, until the exemption runs out. The two firms are expected to claim that the DMCA protects the iPhone from being unlocked because it is a copyrighted work:
'No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.'
It could also be argued that the practice of locking of cell phones only protects access to a carrier's communications network. While such services may be protected by other intellectual property laws, they aren't copyrightable and do not fall under the DCMA.

Individuals who unlock their phones will still need to pay AT&T network charges, or pay the $175 early termination fee if they move to another carrier . Sphere: Related Content

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