Last week, we reported that unlocking your cell phone was going to become illegal in the US on January 26th. And it did. While there are some exceptions to the law— you can still unlock pre-2013 phones—it’s still devastating for cell phone owners.

And it gets worse. According to a new report, the penalty for breaking this new unlocking law is a fine of up to $500,000, 5 years in jail, or both. That’s right, half a million dollars for unlocking your phone. And yes, that includes first-time offenders…

The Atlantic (via iMast777) points to the advisory notice from the Library of Congress:


PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.”

Specifically, this refers to Section 1204 of Public Law 105-304, which says that any person who violates the law willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain will be subject to the aforementioned terms and penalties.

It sounds like this is just talking about the third-party vendors who charge money to unlock phones, but it could easily be argued that this goes for individuals as well. After all, I tend to get $100-$200 more on eBay for an unlocked iPhone vs. a locked one.

As stated previously, there are a few exceptions to the new unlock law. For starters, you could buy an unlocked phone outright from Apple or your carrier. You can also go with a Verizon iPhone 5 because, as we reported, they come unlocked right out of the box.

The big winners here are the carriers, who’ve likely lost millions from folks buying subsidized smartphones, unlocking them and then fleeing. The big losers, well, that would be the third-party unlock vendors who were probably making good money until now.

Wow, I just can’t imagine being fined $500,000 for unlocking a cell phone.

  • Ouch, glad I moved to Canada.

    Hopefully this American political disease doesn’t make its way past the bothers.

  • im going back to “can-on-a-string” communications… eff this madness.

    • They can still fine you. Once you open the cans they will consider it “unlocking”.

  • Kurt

    “the penalty for breaking this new unlocking law is a fine of up to $500,000, 5 years in jail, or both” gotta love United States of Obama. seriously though, child molesters, rapists get probation from liberal judges and here, we can be fined and/or jailed?

    beyond sad

    • AndyDontCare

      What’s ironic is they complain about gun control, which makes this law sound like failure to provide proof of insurance. The laws exist for guns, but the justice system is often too lenient. Look at the guy from the NE US and how much trouble he is in for downloading fucking music. More recently: Aaron Schwartz; 35 years for what was pretty much a TOS violation. Huge penalties for minor crimes – hell, TOS isn’t even a crime. And what is the crime here? It’s a tangible object that _I OWN_ and I should be able to do whatever the fuck I want with it. What next? Life in prison for putting a different brand of oil in my truck?

      • iPhone is more serious than a gun~

        5 years in jail is not a joke.

      • casbouy

        enlighten me with the penalty for a rapist…(just curious)

      • You can be sentenced 0 to Unlimited years, whereas here, based on the wording, you’re outright sentenced to 5 years.

      • 笑傲江湖

        come to China, here is a paradise

      • 笑傲江湖

        no gun in china

      • Nathan Smith

        The problem with the logic you present is the misconception that you OWN your phone. You do not contractually own your phone until your contract period is over. That is why you are able to purchase a $600 iPhone at Verizon or AT&T for $99. The carrier is paying the remaining cost and in turn that is why the phone is locked to their service.

    • That is up to law makers not Obama blame Scalia and Roberts!

      • Kurt

        don’t you mean the liberal Ginsberg, who wants 12 years old to be able to consent to having sex with a 40 year old. hmm…you liberals sure are dumb and make no sense

  • Sad to say that the government always works with people who make the most money. That is the MPAA. They make billions, but yet, it is not enough for them, and they ask the government to pass all those pathetic laws to have censorship. Now the unlock law. The carriers love to overcharge us, and now in order to move to another carrier, you have to buy a new phone. Once again, the rich win. I don’t see any small companies being helped out by the government when help is needed.

    • Short and clear!

      US is allowed to have monopoly-business.

  • Gray

    Admittedly, this decision makes no sense. I understand it from a point of view that, by unlocking it yourself, you can take it to other carriers and use it with them, thus violating the terms of your contract…

    …but the thing is, you’ll still be paying for the service with your current company. Unless you cancel your contract, which will result in a fee — and you could always just cancel your contract and then ask the carrier to unlock it for you after your contract is cancelled, which they’ll have no problems doing.

    So while in the simplistic view of “breach of contract” it seems sound, in the long run, it’s completely illogical. You’ll either still be paying for the service of the company you got the phone from in addition to the service you decide to use the phone on after unlocking, or you’ll cancel, at which point it’d be perfectly fine to unlock your phone anyways.

  • looks like you yankeys ar in some deep shit sigh i rember when i some how did a soft ware un loke on my mus zte all thoes years ago hope it dont get here cos shit shall hit the fan

  • Whos_Jeff

    Carriers paid congress to pass this

  • Bad fish

    Wow, getting more time and fines than child molestors and rapists….

    • Wassim Omais

      It’s called America.

      • Hyr3m

        It’s spelled ‘mu’rika!

  • What if the vendor is not in US? People are still selling the unlock iPhone service on eBay.

    Moreover, I remember the carrier has to provide us the unlock code after 90days into the contract, but how come this doesn’t apply on the iPhone? Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • What the fuck?

  • pnh

    Obviously this is Obama’s way of getting unlockers to pay their “fair share”.

    • Kurt

      hahaha spread the wealth. gotta give to the lazy

  • Hyr3m

    You dared to unlock your 250.- phone ? We’ll make you pay 2000x its worth just to see how fast and creatively you can kill yourself…

  • It’s the Americans own fault, they shouldn’t have voted for Obama…

  • intelxtreme

    you can pettion it it needs 100.000 signatures

  • Suapra

    This is sick.

  • disqus_FfTxvE3tzJ

    where is our freedon

  • Wtf these are our phone we should be able to do anything we want with them, I don’t see this lasting for long

  • sambuzzlight

    wow that’s so dumb, sucks to be in america i guess

  • “Land of the free”………..

  • I find this very stupid..

  • bigzjoseph

    Canada Canada Canada,,,,,,, I hope this shitty law don’t come over here

  • doesn’t matter at all

  • Michael

    What happen to my freedom?

  • what the hell? i’m speechless ! is that still a free country !?

  • loving Canada right now

  • Wow that’s to expensive !!!

  • Tarmo

    Do you think Ultrasn0w will provide unlocking in the future? Are they based in the US? Im from Europe so I hope I can unlock my iPhone 5 or Im screwed.

  • thelawnetwork

    5 years for one offense. 10 years for two offenses. Is the death penalty on the table for strike three?

  • hellac00l

    How can they prove when an unlocking of device took place? My iphone5 was imei unlocked last year. Would I be able to prove that if it was done through ebay?