Owners of unlocked iPhones are rightfully nervous after Apple said yesterday that it “has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs … will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed.”
Worse, if your unlocked iPhone breaks, Apple will not fix it under the warranty, which they say becomes void if you tamper with the iPhone software.
Panic over having your unlocked iPhone damaged by an Apple software update may or may not be justified. One user on an Apple Discussions thread thinks “Apple is going to make it sound a lot worse than it actually is since they are the ones who don’t want you to do it in the first place,” referring to the software unlock that lets you use your iPhone on cell phone networks other than AT&T.
I’m writing today to prove that Apple has no legal right to break your unlocked iPhone, according to U.S. Copyright law. There’s a lot of hard-to-understand technical jargon on the U.S. Copyright Office website, but bear with me and I’ll translate to English:
First, some quick background: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to tamper with gadget manufacturers’ protection mechanisms in order to get the devices to perform differently. The reasoning behind this is that it is considered a violation of the developer’s copyrights.
However, the DMCA law does not apply to the iPhone because of one exemption laid out on the U.S. Copyright Office’s Anticircumvention Rulemaking page:
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.
So what does this mean? It means that you are legally allowed to unlock your iPhone. So if Apple were to damage your device,
they would be in violation of the law (edit: not necessarily; thanks to a commenter for pointing out my mistake). I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
If you’ve already unlocked your iPhone and you want to be extra cautious, you can try undoing the unlock by following the steps on TUAW’s iPhone relocking tutorial.