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Starting today, it’s illegal to unlock your new subsidized mobile phone without your carrier’s permission.
The new rules, which don’t affect consumers who acquired phones before Saturday, come from the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. Previously, you could unlock your subsidized device under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You could then sell the phone or use another carrier’s SIM card to start new service in another wireless network. The change is an update to the DMCA.
Carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint didn’t particularly like the fact that their subscribers could essentially jump ship after getting deeply discounted devices in exchange for monthly service commitments. According to Wired.com, however, carriers rarely went after individuals who unlocked their phones. Instead, they targeted businesses “that bought throw-away phones by the thousands, unlocked them, and shipped them overseas.”
“The carriers’ position has always been, it’s never been about individual consumers,” James Baldinger, an attorney for several providers told Wired.com. “They are concerned about traffickers that steal subsidies and in the end increase the cost of wireless for consumers across the United States.”
Many carriers now provide unlocked phones, and the U.S. Copyright Office says consumers have a wide range of options in obtaining such devices.
While carriers haven’t gone after individuals, they still could become targets of civil suits or criminal fines. Under the new mandate, individuals could face fines of up to $2,500, and cellphone resellers could be fined as much as $500,000 and face prison, Brad Shear, a Washington D.C. expert in social media and technology law, told ABC News.