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US phone unlocking ban to come in to force

26 Jan 2013
Apple Iphone 5 Samsung Galaxy S3

The US Copyright Office is preparing to enact new regulations which will make unlocking a new mobile phone illegal.

The regulations, which come into effect on 26 January, will make it illegal to circumvent manufacturer protections in order to take a device off of its original intended carrier and onto the network of another carrier.

The new regulations are in fact a set of amendments to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which were passed in October. At the time, the government said users would be given a 90-day grace period before the amendments took effect. That grace period ends Saturday.

In making the ruling, the US Copyright Office said that due to the efforts by carriers and manufacturers to offer unlocked models to consumers, preserving user freedom and choice was no longer a valid justification for unlocking a phone manually.

"While it is true that not every wireless device is available unlocked, and wireless carriers' unlocking polices are not free from all restrictions, the record clearly demonstrates that there is a wide range of alternatives from which consumers may choose in order to obtain an unlocked wireless phone," the original ruling stated.

"Thus, the Register determined that with respect to newly purchased phones, proponents had not satisfied their burden of showing adverse effects related to a technological protection measure."

The judgement does come with restrictions, however. The ruling will not impact users who have jailbroken their handsets to run third-party applications and operating systems.

Furthermore, users who have already unlocked their handsets, or who purchased their phone prior to 26 January will not be prohibited from unlocking the device now or in the future.

The US Copyright Office argued that prohibiting users from unlocking mobile handsets was just "warranted and unlikely to harm the market".

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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