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The rule issued by the Librarian of Congress October last year is now in effect. Starting January 26, 2013, it is now illegal to unlock your phone without the permission of your carrier. This, in essence, makes it more difficult to switch from one carrier to another while keeping your current device.

Unlocking smartphone is now illegal

This rule, however, only covers devices that are locked by the carriers. If you want the subsidized price of the smartphone from carriers, you will have to ride out the remainder of your contract locked in.

Consumers will still be able to buy unlocked phones and that is one of the main reasons for this rule.

• Why make it illegal now?

According the new rule implemented under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), an exemption for unlocking phones is no longer necessary. For one, according to the Librarian, there is a readily available supply of phones in the market that are unlocked.

What it means is that consumers are not forced or pressured to buy locked phones in the first place because there are other avenues that they can pursue to get their hands on unlocked phones. For instance, Apple and partners like Verizon have agreed to sell unlocked iPhone 5s. You can also get different unlocked phones from Best Buy.

[ Do read: 5 Money Saving Android and Smart Phone Apps ]

Another reason why the rule has changed is because of recent court decisions, particularly the decision of the 9th Circuit Court on the Vernor vs. Autodesk, Inc. case in 2010. According to that particular decision, we do not own the software in our mobile phones. We are actually just licensing the software running in the phone so we do not have the right to alter it.

• What will happen now?

For one, if you need to travel and you need your business phone to accept other sim cards, you have to ask your carrier to unlock the phone for you. Major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint will unlock the device for you as long as you can prove that you are going to travel. It is going to be a bit of a hassle, but it is better than buying a separate phone for travel.  If you choose to use your carrier’s service while abroad, you will have to pay the exorbitant roaming fees that come with long distance calls.

You should also think twice about signing that 2-year contract with carriers because it is a major commitment now more than ever. You no longer have the option of switching to another carrier even if you plan on honoring your 2-year contract.

On a positive note, jailbreaking is still legal on smartphones (but not tablets). Jailbreaking only allows you to run additional software to your phone that you normally would not have been able to do. After all, jailbreaking does not let you switch to other carriers.

As of now, it is not clear how the authorities and the carriers themselves will be implementing this new rule. Detection and consequences have not been clearly stated in the ruling so it could be anything from phone confiscation to litigation.

There is currently a Whitehouse petition to make phone unlocking legal again and you can add your signature if you are against the new rule.

Image source: thebluedot

What do you think about this new rule? Do share your opinion in the comment section, we’ll be glad to hear from you.
Written by Henry Conrad – Edited by Nizam Khan

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