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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Starting Today, It's Illegal to Unlock Your Cellphone

A new law that makes it illegal to 'unlock' your cell phone and switch carriers goes into effect today and will carry fines between $2,500 and $500,000, and in some cases, prison time.

The change made by the U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act will make it illegal for consumers to unlock mobile devices without the permission of their carrier.

The lock feature on mobile devices essentially allows carriers a way to prevent customers from switching to a new plan with a different company.

Unless your phone came unlocked and are grandfathered in under the law, you're device is legally chained to your service provider.

'For many users, unlocking a phone is a necessary fix, opening up a feature and freedom that people need to effectively use their devices,' reads a blog post on, 'The Copyright Office’s decision to outlaw this right of ownership hurts users and further empowers carriers to trap consumers.'

Now, it is illegal to unlock a phone from a carrier unless you have that carrier's permission.

'It wasn't a good ruling,' Rebecca Jeschke, a digital rights analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told ABC News. 'You should be able to unlock your phone.

This law was meant to combat copyright infringement, not to prevent people to do what they want to do with the device they bought.'

So what could happen if you unlocked your phone now that it's illegal?

'Violations of the DMCA [unlocking your phone] may be punished with a civil suit or, if the violation was done for commercial gain, it may be prosecuted as a criminal act,' Brad Shear, a Washington, D.C.-area attorney and blogger who is an expert on social media and technology law, told ABC News. 'A carrier may sue for actual damages or for statutory damages.'

The worst-case scenario for an individual or civil offense could be as much as a $2,500 fine. As for those planning to profit off of the act or a criminal offense -- such as a cellphone reseller -- the fine could be as high as $500,000 and include prison time.

'I don't see carriers going aggressively after people, but bottom line is that I would not recommend violating this provision of the law,' Shear said.

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