Unlocking cellphones (GSM phones, anyway) has been part of the game of cellphone ownership for some time… at least, outside the US.Â Virtually all the cell phones I have are unlocked so that I can purchase cheap prepaid SIMs when travelling.Â No point in paying Rogers $3.50 per minute, when a local SIM can be had for $0.50/minute, or less.
But until now US carriers have taken the position that unlocking a US cell phone is in fact a violation of the DMCA, which prohibits the defeat of copy protection on copyrighted works.Â Â Their position has been that it isÂ unlawful for you to use the cell phone you paid for except as a terminal on the network of the carrier that you bought it from.Â Goofy logic, in my opinion, and clearly a misuse of copyright.Â Unlockers aren’t trying to copy the firmware in the cellphone.Â They’re just trying to use the phone they’ve paid money for, albeit perhaps not on the carrier where the phone was originally purchased.Â
As of Monday, however, the US Copyright office has said that unlocking cellphones will not be considered a copyright violation.Â You’ll be free to unlock your phone, and take it to another carrier.Â
Lots of people have applauded this move.Â Let’s be realistic, though.Â It’s just a babsytep.Â Â The copyright officeÂ hasn’t saidÂ that carriers must unlock the phones,Â just that you won’t be prosecuted if you do.Â That stinks. Given that you can port a phone number to another network, wouldn’t a reasonable next step be for the FCC to require carriers to alsoÂ port the phone itself? And what about CDMA phones?Â While we’re at it, let’s require carriers to make CDMA phones to be portable from one network to another.
That would be a move worthy of applause, instead of this measly half-step.