In the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives manufacturers and carriers a whole lot of control over just how you can use and what you can do with the smartphone or tablet you purchased from them. Luckily for end-users, every once in a while the government hears arguments for and decides on a number of exemptions to the Act. Back in 2010, some big progress was made, and things like jailbreaking and carrier unlocking your phone were granted such exemptions. Unfortunately, those rules don’t last forever, and upon the most recent reconsideration of them, unlocking handsets once again became forbidden. We told you about the news last fall when the decision was made, but a heads-up might be in order, as its impact is just about to felt, with the unlocking ban going into effect tomorrow.
Starting January 26, your only legal options for getting a new unlocked phone will be either asking your carrier to unlock it on your behalf, or buying the phone unlocked from the get-go. That’s not to say that there still won’t be underground services willing to circumvent the DMCA and unlock your phone for a fee, but know that if you go down that road, the law is not on your side.
This rule-change doesn’t affect the legality of rooting or jailbreaking, both of which will remain protected by DMCA exemptions.