The question is not whether it's legal to unlock the iPhone ...

The question is not whether it's legal to unlock the iPhone ...

Summary: ... the real question is whether Apple is allowed to brick an unlocked iPhone.

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... the real question is whether Apple is allowed to brick an unlocked iPhone.

The question is not whether it's legal to unlock the iPhone ...My posts on the possibility that Apple will brick unlocked iPhones have generated a lot of feedback.  Many of you are wondering whether it's legal to unlock an iPhone.  The fact is that, within the US, it is legal to unlock a phone, and it's enshrined in law:

Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works

The Librarian of Congress, on the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights, has announced the classes of works subject to the exemption from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. Persons making noninfringing uses of the following six classes of works will not be subject to the prohibition against circumventing access controls (17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)) during the next three years.

...

5. Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

The question is not whether it's legal to unlock the iPhone, the real question is whether Apple is allowed to brick an unlocked iPhone.  That's the interesting question, and since I'm not a lawyer I don't pretend to have the answer, but here are some thoughts:

  • Apple's given prior notice that a future update "will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable"
  • Users will consent to the installation being carried out
  • Most updates are preceded by a license agreement which says that if things go wrong, well, tough
  • The warranty doesn't cover making any unauthorized changes to the device
  • Apple is under no obligation to make sure that you tweaking remains compatible with updates

On a related note, the iPhone Dev Team is promising a patch to restore unlocked iPhones back to factory fresh condition.

So, where does this leave users of unlocked iPhones and Apple?  My guess is that if iPhones start getting bricked, there's going to be trouble.

Topics: Wi-Fi, Apple, iPhone, Mobility, Networking, Telcos

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41 comments
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  • What this is doing

    is just making me say to myself "iPhone just isn't worth the trouble". At least until Apple cleans up their act and at least allows people to use the carrier of their choice.
    Michael Kelly
    • Makes me wonder...

      ...how Apple could stumble like this. Apple has always been so good at marketing in the past. How could it not foresee what has happened since the introduction of the iPhone? First the lock-in to AT&T, then the price-drop issue, now this. Whatever else you can say about them, Apple's people have never seemed to lack foresight. Could there be more to this than meets the eye?

      Carl Rapson
      rapson
    • Clearly Not

      Apple offers a value proposition. It includes email, web browsing, phone service,
      and a music player amongst other things. What they are not offering is a hobby
      kit. They don't owe you a living.

      They've created a fairly revolutionary UI, and launching a "full platform" phone
      alternative to Windows mobile. It is in fact the new phone of choice for a record
      number of early adopters, and with sales above those of competitors, a steady
      stream of new users. They have expanded choice. The thing is, you'd never know
      it listening to most of the blather around here. No, here, the iPhone restricts
      choice. You don't even have to buy one for it to inflict some ambient harm.

      On these boards, Apple has somehow transcended space and time and formed an
      ability to offend those who don't use their devices. These folks will make
      excaimations as to why they won't buy in on Monday, then again Wednesday and
      Thursday. I've never seen such aggressive non-use in my life.

      So pile on. Give your reasons why you'll never own an iPhone. If you feel you have
      to, call into question the intelligence of those who do. Get it over with, then
      please, just give it a rest and buy something else.
      Harry Bardal
      • we will harry when you take you own advise ;)

        we will harry when you take you own advise ;)
        SO.CAL Guy
      • Harry, I have come to the conclusion that...

        you are, to the pro-Apple camp, what No_Ax is to the MS camp. A paid shill who just ends up making the whole camp look bad.
        Scrat
        • Duly Noted

          Duly noted. Thanks.

          I'll await your next conclusion.
          Harry Bardal
      • And when did I say they owed me a living?

        All I said was that the non-technical restrictions they are placing on the phone was turning me off from the product. I fully agree with you that the technical aspects of the phone are incredible. It's just a shame that the non-technical restrictions are making me choose another product, which yes, I know I am more than capable of doing. You are correct that the iPhone does not restrict choice as long as I don't buy one, so as long as it does restrict the choices I want to make, I won't.

        However, if they would choose to eliminate the non-technical restrictions I would be more receptive to the product. And I don't see anything wrong with letting Apple and everybody else know that. Most companies pay through the roof to obtain this kind of customer feedback and I'm giving it for free.
        Michael Kelly
        • Keep Up

          Here's a thought. With all the handset makers planning an iPhone clone, I suspect
          within 5 years you'll be using what amounts to an iPhone regardless of who you
          buy it from. We're in the midst of a paradigm shift and you folks are naval gazing
          and griping about minutia.

          Please don't buy the phone. Allow Adrian, the consummate tourist to provide you
          with a platform to explain why. God bless. There's just this little issue. It's entirely
          likely that history, in the larger sense, won't record your opinion. Just as Apple
          introduced and defined accessible personal technology with the Apple II and Mac,
          they're doing it again now. What a phone "is" is changing. So please don't be
          offended if I'm not enraptured with your opinions. I'm looking at a somewhat
          bigger picture.

          It's entirely possible that, just as with iTunes/iPod, a consumer union of sorts is
          being formed around allegiance to a device. The power of the carriers is being
          usurped. Try to extend your thoughts beyond "you" and the "next two weeks" and
          you might come to different conclusions.
          Harry Bardal
          • Sorry, but

            if I am the customer, it never extends beyond "me". That's how capitalism works. If a product conflicts with "my" needs, it does not get purchased. And if my needs aren't being met, then my opinion Apple will be seeing, and if they ignore it, then the next company which offers a similar product that does not conflict with my needs will get my business.

            Just remember, Apple pulled this crap in the 80's and lost the battle for the desktop as a result. Remember, they had a nice vision of the future back then too, and had the technology to back it up. Except they started looking after themselves more than their customers, so Bill Gates came along and helped himself to the same technology (heck, it wasn't even as good as Apple's at first) and rather than make his technology more inaccessible he made it more accessible. And soon his company had a monopoly and Apple struggled to survive.
            Michael Kelly
          • Microsoft was extremely lucky

            +Many thought the old, typewriter making company IBM was synonymous with
            computer. Maybe they've bought office-gear from IBM for many years.
            +The piracy of IBM's PC which made the market grow impressively.
            +Licensing.
            +The Microsoft-tax.
            +All other Microsoft's anticompetitive actions.

            Apple's actual userbase has never shrunk but actually grown like the rest of the
            industry, it just doesn't look that way if you incorrectly compare market share with
            that entire PC market share.

            Instead, compare the number of Macs to the number of Gateways or Sony Vaios in
            the world and you'll get a very different picture.

            The iPhone is a communication device like those from Nokia and Ericsson but with
            a much more elegant integration of functions and services, all with Apple's
            famously elegant user-interface. It's so easy to use that even grandma can use it,
            why it has been and will continue to be a smashing success.

            So if you don't like AT&T the by all means choose a different phone, for now.
            Every other phone-maker will of course try to copy the iPhone so there will not be
            any lack of choice in the future either, but don't expect those choices to be less
            expensive without telecom-locks.
            Mikael_z
          • Every iPhone clone will be less expensive.

            And they'll actually be open enough to choose the carrier you want, something Apple has never understood. Their idea of choice is extremely limited, and grossly over-priced, as in charging $150 to upgrade an iMac with $25-$30 worth of RAM, or $50 for a USB modem when every other maker out there is still throwing in a Modem for cost. Will the iPhone be "better"? Maybe; but the cheaper one will still do it all, just with a little less style.
            ajole
          • To ajole: Care to prove it?

            E.g. the Nokia N95 is almost twice as expensive as the iPhone.
            Mikael_z
          • Threat to Carriers

            The largest threat to carriers and their use of monopoly power or collusion, is our
            nation's antitrust laws. The second largest threat is the iPhone. AT& T will be the
            carrier for the next two years, then who? There is NO precedent for the kickback
            deal Apple is getting either here or in Europe. With the current trajectory, the
            iPhone, in one form or another will take the same market position that the iPod
            has.

            Do you think this is business as usual? In the other corner are these free popcorn
            prize phones. Patronage from the carrriers. Pick one of those why don't you. With
            the exception of Blackberry they are software-stupid and have more in common
            with a transformer toy than a dev platform. So please buy one. Or don't, and wait
            until Apple conforms to your lofty ideals of personal freedom. We'll expect you to
            apply those principles evenly within the marketplace, and stop the use of software
            from any actual, court convicted, predatory monopolists.

            So again, thanks for your opinion, thats all we can ever offer. Everyone and their
            dogs are weighing in on this issue and opinions are coming from informed and
            uniformed places. While your opinion is valid, as far as it goes, my opinion of your
            opinion, is that its hopelessly narrow and self-important. So thanks again for your
            magnanimous gift to Apple. The gift of your advice. It's entirely possible they'll not
            be using it.
            Harry Bardal
      • So does that mean...

        ...you're going to stop criticizing those who choose Windows over Apple?

        "I've never seen such aggressive non-use in my life."

        I would dispute that, based on the number of posts ZDNet gets from Apple users who love to criticize Windows.

        "If you feel you have
        to, call into question the intelligence of those who do. Get it over with, then please, just give it a rest and buy something else."

        Sound advice that many here could stand to follow.

        Carl Rapson
        rapson
        • Here's the Deal

          I criticize Windows because I own and use Windows. Did you think I didn't? Did
          you think that inexperience with Windows qualifies one to level criticism against
          it? Apparently you do, since you accept uniformed criticism of Apple.

          I use both. My decision to use Mac as my primary system comes from the reasons
          I've outlined here. My arguments repeated qualify the use of Apple as a foil. I'm
          lobbying for market balance, a return to open market dynamics after a 13 year
          stint in a feudal platform marketplace. This is about coexistence. Is this not clear?

          After 10 years repairing PCs, Adrian got a loaner from Apple. It was apparently his
          first tangible experience with the OS. His conclusion? It was the best hardware
          he'd ever used and he was more productive on it, than on his PC. It wouldn't have
          happened without being spoon fed a high powered laptop for two months free of
          charge. He then runs out and spends 3k on Vista and gear to run it to support a
          career based on a PC ecosystem.

          This is typical. Everyone is an Apple expert. Particularly those who want nothing to
          do with Apple products.

          My question is this. Why is it even on your radar. Answer it honestly, or cut the
          noise.
          Harry Bardal
      • HA HA

        Yes apple has offered a value proposition. They did it like they always do, by providing proprietary hardware as the alternative. Some people don't like that and they have every bit as much right to complain about it as you have the right to defend it.

        How arrogant of you to think that because you LIKE the iphone, that those of us who don't suddenly have no right to complain about it and that our problems with it aren't valid?

        How about you just get over yourself?
        Antagonist
        • Complaints

          What is it that you're complaining about exactly? Not the iPhone certainly. You
          don't own one. Is it Apple then? Their proprietary hardware? Have they managed to
          affect you even though you clearly don't buy their propositions?

          Have Apple denied you anything? Any of these things that you "don't" want. Have
          they impeded you in any way from getting the things you do want?

          Let's just say, probably not.

          So what is this about?

          I'm not going to put words in your mouth, but I am going to make you aware of
          what this criticism looks like. Apple is a lightning rod for a good many fairly vapid
          pot shots, and inevitably it looks like... "darn you for making us want this stuff".
          To put a fine point on it, it looks like unqualified envy.

          I'd suggest that if you want to appear less envious, that you raise the standard of
          the criticism a good deal. Make it truly constructive. Extend your opinion beyond
          your own thoughts and actions for the next two weeks, vote with your dollars and
          purchase something else, or just avoid saying anything that smacks of envy.

          These posts should implicitly contain reason they are worth the effort of language.
          The complaint has to show why its worth the effort, or it will have that motivation
          superimposed upon it in the reading. It's a thinking man's burden. Step up.
          Harry Bardal
        • How true!

          And get a life,also.
          RS9
          • Talk to me

            Is that your own turn of phrase, or did you pick that up somewhere?
            Harry Bardal
  • Enshrined in Law: since November 2006

    nt
    D T Schmitz