THE UNITED STATES Copyright Office will put into force today a change that makes unlocking a new mobile phone purchased on contract from a mobile network operator illegal.
Set to take effect on Saturday, 26 January, the change makes it illegal to circumvent phone maker protections to free a device from its original carrier and move it to another network.
The change affects rules governing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that were adopted in October. At the time, the government mandated that users be given a 90 day grace period before the change took effect, and that grace period ends Saturday.
In making the ruling, the US federal government said that due to the efforts by carriers and phone makers to offer pre-unlocked models to consumers, preserving user freedom of choice was no longer a valid argument 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 government said in its ruling.
"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 change does come with loopholes, however. The rule change 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 phones prior to 26 January will not be prohibited from unlocking the devices now or in the future.
"The Register concluded after a review of the statutory factors that an exemption to the prohibition on circumvention of mobile phone computer programs to permit users to unlock `legacy' phones is both warranted and unlikely to harm the market for such programs," read the ruling.
"At the same time, in light of carriers' current unlocking policies and the ready availability of new unlocked phones in the marketplace, the record did not support an exemption for newly purchased phones." µ