Using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent users from unlocking mobile phones is downright crazy. Unfortunately, being crazy doesn’t mean that it’s not backed by the law. Depending on whether you are living in the year 2006 or 2009, unlocking your phone without your carrier’s permission could be legal, or illegal.
Let’s not forget that it wasn’t too long ago that we had the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws, which saw major Internet sites such as Wikipedia go dark in protest. Despite fending off those threats, there are more laws like it trying to be passed, so be prepared for plenty of “Washington VS the Internet” fights.
Back in 1998, Congress was drafting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law — created after heavy lobbying by record labels and Hollywood studios — was supposed to make it harder for people to copy files. One particular element, section 1201, made it illegal to crack open digital locks designed to prevent copying.
But the language was so broad that phones got swept up too. Mobile-phone companies encrypt the software that locks a phone to a network, so they started claiming that breaking that encryption — unlocking a phone — was illegal under the DMCA.