It's totally legal to unlock your phone in America now, yay


I never even knew that the Library of Congress could pass laws.

It is in the fine print of the Constitution – it can only happen on the eleventh full moon of an even numbered year…


So does this mean folks like AT&T have to unlock the phones that are still under contract or do we still have to go back-alley, just without fear of prosecution?

1 Like

They can’t, but it’s the responsibility of the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress to define what the DMCA applies to, or to give exemptions to.

Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Library of Congress has the power to review copyright exceptions, including whether consumers can unlock their cellphones, every three years. In 2006 and 2010 cellphone unlocking was renewed as an exception to DMCA, meaning it was legal. But in 2012, the renewal was rejected, sparking the petition and later the bill.


1 Like

One thing phones and tablets still need is root access with an admin password – just like desktop and laptop computers. People shouldn’t have to risk bricking their devices to have full access to the OS.


And unlocked bootloaders!


From the language of the bill, it looks like they have to unlock it, though you will have to continue to pay your contract. I suppose carriers may include explicit language in subsidized contracts saying that you do not own the phone until the contract is entirely paid off, but I doubt this will happen (and I would hazard to guess that it wouldn’t be enforceable most of the time).

I would expect this to mean the end of cheap, subsidized, no-contract phones—especially GSM handsets like AT&T’s $50 Lumia 520. Even if your average consumer would be unlikely to get their phones unlocked, the allowance for bulk unlocking means there is a huge opportunity to buy the handsets in the US, get them unlocked, and sell them for double on the international market. Hell, maybe I should buy out Amazon’s stock right now…

1 Like

It’s probably cheaper to buy unlocked handsets direct from China anyway.

1 Like

If something is cheaper in China, it’s probably because the product is so crappy that it isn’t sold in the US. If something does make it to the US, it’s probably cheaper at Amazon or Wal-Mart than it is at any Chinese retail operation… and that’s without even taking handset subsidies into account (an unlocked 8GB iPhone 5S is about $850 in China, and even purely Chinese products are typically more expensive in my experience).

The Lumia 520 sells for about $95 in China right now (575 yuan, and higher on, as opposed to $50 on It will destroy anything you can get for $50 in China.

That is cheap. Mind you, I buy generic droids from China every time I need a new phone. I’ve never been disappointed, but I spend about £100-150 on one.

If you buy from places like you’re getting better prices than you can realistically find in a HK or Chinese market. I tried to get some stuff I saw on DX (but didn’t have 3 weeks to wait for shipping), and it was an exercise in frustration to find the appropriate shopping districts and then find a store that actually sold what I was looking for. If I came within 5% of DX’s prices I was happy, which makes DX’s free worldwide shipping on a 99¢ cable an even crazier deal.

Have you ever compared your Chinese phones to something like an £120 Moto G (£100 if you want to unlock it yourself)?

1 Like

Yeah, it’s no contest, IMO. Better specs, faster, two SIM slots (and two IMEI no.s, so basically two separate devices to the networks), and SD card slot. I like 'em. My last one lasted me two years and I’d likely still have it, if I hadn’t stood on the damn thing. Getting a new one next month.

1 Like

I’d guess that the next Moto G will have 2 SIM slots (at least if the Moto E is any indication) in addition to the SD slot the 4G version already has. The 2013 version already has a decent quadcore processor, the same pixel density as the iPhone 5S, an unlockable bootloader, and decent support.

Buying the no-name Chinese phones just seems like too much of a leap of faith. In the US, Blu is a manufacturer that seems to be emulating these kinds of Chinese phones (including dual SIMs), but my experience with low-end Blu feature phones would make me wary of buying a smartphone from them… and that’s despite them being an active participant in the US market with English-language support.

AT&T is still requiring that you complete your service agreement or pay an ETF before they will unlock.

“You have not completed your service agreement. You are under contract and must complete the contract period before your device can be unlocked.”

Of course you can’t easily find your contract termination date. I did check into vendors that will unlock – cost is prohibitive for just needing to unlock for a trip to the UK for a week and a half, which is my need. I’m looking at getting portable wifi hotspot and going data-only for the trip.

It hasn’t even been a week since the Bill was signed. AT&T hasn’t updated their policy to reflect changes in the law yet.

Edit: I checked again and I misread the Bill when I looked at it before. fuzzyfungus is right that it doesn’t provide a carrier obligation, just an allowance for unlocking. So AT&T doesn’t have an obligation to change their policy.

It confers no obligation to assist in unlocking them or make them unlockable without the aid of silicon-level attacks; but if you can do it or have it done the DMCA won’t apply (for the next year, how generous…)

For better or worse, that isn’t the ‘locking’ that this bill addresses. It covers SIM-locking, which binds a device to a given carrier at the cellular modem level. Root access to the OS may be an ingredient of some chipset unlocks, I’m not sure; but they are treated as distinct things.

On the plus side, OS rooting has attracted minimal regulatory fire (odds are that the DMCA arguments are actually better there than for SIM locking; but SIM locking is the technical muscle behind ‘cheap’ phones and long contracts, so that is where the carrier interest is), so there hasn’t been too much legal chilling of the OS side.

On the minus side, it was a massive slog to get a fairly anemic version of a bill with obvious value in encouraging competition in the cellular market; and the software-freedom angle is about a zillion times less congressionally compelling, so were it to come up I’d be very nervous indeed.

1 Like

Like I said, I’ve never been disappointed by them.

You can get it done when you get here for fifteen quid at any of the myriad phone unlocking shops in every town and city :wink:

1 Like