Cell Phone Unlocking, Abandonware Now Legal

The U.S. Copyright Office has issued new rules, effective Monday, that reinforce the ability for consumers to move phones from one carrier to another. They also enable older, unavailable software to be accessed by the public.

It has generally been considered that Unlocking phones has been legal in the United States. While illegal in the EU, Americans have for years unlocked GSM phones without fear of prosecution. The DMCA, for example, confined the limits of such hacking and protection only to make it illegal to bypass copy protection.

However, the Copyright Office has exercised its authority to cement such new rules. Effective Monday, cell phone subsidy locks will have no copyright or intellectual property value to the consumer. Customers can use locked phone on any compatible carrier using any of several methods to unlock the phone.

The U.S. Copyright Office’s more sweeping changes have little effect on cell phone use specifically. New rules officially permit the use and distribution of so-called Abandonware, or software that is no longer generally available to the public (in the form it was originally released). Meaning, you can now legally use MAME to emulate classic arcade games on your phone (assuming it’s powerful enough… and the game is no longer available).

U.S. Copyright Office – Anticircumvention Ruling