Unlocked-iPhone 4S

Earlier this year, a DMCA exemption expired, which made unlocking your iPhone not only illegal, but also punishable by a $500,000 fine, five years in jail, or both.

Today, Congress passed a bill that makes unlocking your phone without permission from your carrier legal. The bill was first unanimously passed by the Senate a couple of weeks ago, and the policy was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives this afternoon. The last step is for President Obama to sign the bill, which will officially turn it into a law.

The legislation approved by the House Friday, which the Senate unanimously approved last week, reinstates a 2010 rulemaking by the Librarian of Congress so that consumers can transfer, or “unlock,” their cell phones without running afoul of copyright laws. It also directs the Librarian of Congress to consider whether other wireless devices, like tablets, should be eligible for unlocking.

As it stands, this bill does not fix the issue permanently. If anything, it only governs the Library of Congress to allow users and third party companies to legally unlock devices acquired from a carrier without breaking copyright laws. The Library of Congress will examine the legislation in 2015 and tri-annually after that to ensure that the law is still relevant. However, due to huge backing of the bill by not only the public but the unanimous vote of the Congress, the chances of the new rule being revoked anytime soon are slim.

The results of this policy largely affect carrier competition and the freedom of consumers to use their devices on whatever carrier they choose. This liberty works to encourage competition among cellular carriers in terms of network quality, availability, and price, as customers won’t have to buy a new phone when switching carriers.

[Press Release via The Verge]