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Cell Phone Owners Allowed to Break Software Locks

Mon Nov 27, 2006 - 4:22 PM EST - By Jennifer Chappell


Thanks to a new copyright rule, cell phone owners can unlock the software on their phones. Cell phone owners will now have the ability to take their phone with them from wireless carrier to wireless carrier.

Under new copyright rules approved by the Library of Congress Wednesday, cell phone owners will be allowed to break software locks on their handsets in order to use them with competing carriers.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington approved six exemptions, the most his Copyright Office has ever granted.

Other copyright exemptions approved by the Library of Congress will let film professors copy snippets from DVDs for educational compilations and let blind people use special software to read copy-protected electronic books.

The new rules will take effect Monday and expire in three years.

"I am very encouraged by the fact that the Copyright Office is willing to recognize exemptions for archivists, cell phone recyclers and computer security experts," said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Frankly I'm surprised and pleased they were granted."

But von Lohmann said he was disappointed the Copyright Office rejected a number of exemptions that could have benefited consumers, including one that would have let owners of DVDs legally copy movies for use on Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod and other portable players.

In granting the exemption for cell phone users, the Copyright Office determined that consumers aren't able to enjoy full legal use of their handsets because wireless providers place software locks on the phones to control access to underlying programs.

Billington noted that at least one company has filed lawsuits claiming that breaking the software locks violates copyright law, which makes it illegal for people to circumvent copy-protection technologies without an exemption from the Copyright Office. He said the locks appeared in place not to protect the developer of the cell phone software but for third-party interests.

This is great news! In the past, many cell phone owners have paid companies on the internet to unlock their phones and some have downloaded software to unlock their phones. GSM cell phones are designed to work with any service provider. When originally manufactured, all GSM cell phones are unlocked. Most cell phone service providers electronically 'lock' the phone so that it can only be used with their service. Naturally, they want to force you to pay for those very high roaming charges when you're out of their network area.

But now, thanks to the new copyright rule, people won't have to go to great lengths to unlock their phones that shouldn't have been locked to begin with. I've been recently enjoying using an unlocked HTC TyTN that I won at Palm Addict. It's been nice being able to pop my SIM card out of my Cingular Treo 650 and straight into the TyTN and make and receive phone calls. It's nice to know that in the future, I can do this without having to win or buy an "unlocked" phone. It'll just be the norm and that's great!

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