updated 07:29 am EST, Mon January 28, 2013
Practice punishable by fines, imprisonment, for unlocking
Phone unlocking without carrier permission is now illegal in the United States. A 90-day transition period, permitting the practice after an exemption added to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was reversed in October, has now run out, something that now forces customers to either ask and potentially pay carriers for unlocking services, or to buy phones that have been unlocked beforehand.
The exemption was put in place after a campaign by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2010, according to TechCrunch. Three exemptions were applied for, including making jailbreaking legal and the renewal of an existing exemption that permitted phone unlocking. In October, the US Copyright Office and the Library of Congress reviewed and then overturned the unlocking exemption, citing the relative ease for consumers to either get an unlocked handset or to unlock a phone through a carrier. A 90-day transition period was then put in place, which has since ran out.
Penalties for unlocking, as outlined by CTIA, range from the carrier's "actual damages and any additional profits of the violator", to a court-awarded statutory damages of between $200 and $2500 per individual unlock, on the Civil Penalties side. Criminal penalties would see violators fined at most $500,000 or imprisoned for up to five years, or both, for a first offence, with the values doubled for subsequent offences.
In light of the unlocking exemption's closure, a We The People petition asking for the Librarian of Congress to rescind the decision or to make unlocking permanently legal, has gathered over 25,000 signatures.
Jailbreaking and rooting of smartphones continues to be legal.