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Unlocking new phones now banned under DMCA, the EFF weighs in

Nicole Lee, @nicole
01.26.13
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It was great while it lasted, but the days of users legally unlocking their own phones is over. Back in October of last year, the Library of Congress added an exemption to the DMCA to allow folks to free their new phones for 90 days. That three month window has now closed. Of course, carriers are still free to offer unlocked handsets themselves, and some will also unlock them for you as long as certain conditions are met. "Legacy" or used handsets purchased before today can still be unlocked without any finger-wagging from federal courts.

So, what does this mean exactly? Well, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Mitch Stoltz told us, "What's happening is not that the Copyright Office is declaring unlocking to be illegal, but rather that they're taking away a shield that unlockers could use in court if they get sued." This does make lawsuits much more likely according to him, but it's still up to the courts to decide the actual legality of phone unlocking. Indeed, it's a grim day for those who want true freedom over their own devices. Stoltz said to us, "This shows just how absurd the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is: a law that was supposed to stop the breaking of digital locks on copyrighted materials has led to the Librarian of Congress trying to regulate the used cellphone market."

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