the Irish for rights

Number unavailable – is locking phones lawful or anticompetitive?

Locked phone, via the NYT site.Have you bought a locked mobile/cellular telephone? Are you thinking about doing do? If so, then you will be interested in an article in the New York Times during the week, entitled Locked vs. Unlocked: Opening Up Choice (also here). One element of it caught my eye in particular:

In the United States … some carriers — and in the case of the iPhone, a phone maker — say that unlocking the phone may violate the company warranty and thus the company will not repair or replace it if something goes awry. Some imply that it is not legal to unlock a phone, but the legal issues are murky at best. A subsection [ie, section 1201] of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 could be interpreted as saying that anyone who unlocks a phone for someone else or tells others how to do it might face legal action.

Some legal scholars, like Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School and an authority on digital copyright law, have argued that interpreting the act that way has little to do with protecting copyrights, and more to do with limiting competition. The Librarian of Congress, the office that determines what things are covered under the copyright act, exempts the unlocking of mobile phones from the law.

Several recent cases support Professor Crawford’s view. In one of those cases, Lexmark, a printer manufacturer, tried to use the act to sue a company that made compatible ink cartridges [see Lexmark International Inc v Static Control Components Inc 387 F3d 522 (6th Cir. 2004) (pdf)]. In another, a garage door opener manufacturer tried to sue a rival company for making a universal door opener [see Chamberlain v Skylink 381 F3d 1178 (Fed Cir. 2004) (html)]. In both instances, federal courts ruled that these cases were not about preventing copyright infringement, but rather about stifling competition, Professor Crawford said. “Courts have said you shouldn’t use the D.M.C.A. to leverage your copyright monopoly into other markets,� she said.

It is a classic rule against monopoly power in general, though it is particularly so in the intellectual property context (pdf). A fuller statement of Prof Crawford’s views is here (also here).

4 Responses to “Number unavailable – is locking phones lawful or anticompetitive?”

  1. […] phones Published by Gavin Sheridan at 14/11/2007 in Technology. Eoin links to an article in the New York Times about the legality of locking phones. When oh when will […]

  2. […] phones Published by Gavin Sheridan at 14/11/2007 in Technology. Eoin links to an article in the New York Times about the legality of locking phones. When oh when will […]

  3. I’m not sure if it is unlawful or anticompetitive, but I’m sure the phone carriers are going to keep making it more difficult to unlock phones meant for their networks.

  4. This is a very profitable method applied by the phone companies, and it makes sense. “Hey, here’s an expensive phone for less .. if you promise to use it only on my network”.
    This guarantees probably 90% (or even more) loyal customers due to the fact that they have to buy a new phone if they more to another network.

Leave a Reply



Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

Academic links


  • RSS Feed
  • RSS Feed
  • Subscribe via Email
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Archives by month

Categories by topic

My recent tweets

Blogroll (or, really, a non-blogroll)

What I'd like for here is a simple widget that takes the list of feeds from my existing RSS reader and displays it here as a blogroll. Nothing fancy. I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

I had built a blogroll here on my Google Reader RSS subscriptions. Google Reader produced a line of html for each RSS subscription category, each of which I pasted here. So I had a list of my subscriptions as my blogroll, organised by category, which updated whenever I edited Google Reader. Easy peasy. However, with the sad and unnecessary demise of that product, so also went this blogroll. Please take a moment to mourn Google Reader. If there's an RSS reader which provides a line of html for the list of subscriptions, or for each RSS subscription category as Google Reader did, I'd happily use that. So, as I've already begged, I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

Meanwhile, please bear with me until I find a new RSS+Blogroll solution




Creative Commons License

This blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. I am happy for you to reuse and adapt my content, provided that you attribute it to me, and do not use it commercially. Thanks. Eoin

Credit where it’s due

The image in the banner above is a detail from a photograph of the front of Trinity College Dublin night taken by Melanie May.

Others whose technical advice and help have proven invaluable in keeping this show on the road include Dermot Frost, Karlin Lillington, Daithí Mac Síthigh, and Antoin Ó Lachtnáin.

Thanks to Blacknight for hosting.