Apple Has No Right to Break Your Unlocked iPhone (See Proof)

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.

7 thoughts on “Apple Has No Right to Break Your Unlocked iPhone (See Proof)”

  1. Unlocking a cellphone is copyright infringement. When you buy a handset from a carrier, it has programming on the phone. It’s a copyright of the manufacturer.

  2. well how many people were dissappointed when their unlocked iPhones were turned into expensive paper weights after the last software update? Which warned that it would ruin unlocked or “hacked” phones

  3. You are TRAFFICING IGNORANCE. Read the TUAW article. Unlocking alters your phone very significantly, as “re-locking” shows you. Apple will not “break” your phone, YOU ALREADY HAVE.

  4. Wow. What increibly brain-dead logic. Read the poster’s reasoning very slowly. Let me break it down for you.

    1. A DMCA exemption makes it LEGAL to unlock your phone.
    2. Ergo, Apple would be in violation of the law if they damage your device.

    Yikes. Talk about a leap of logic that’ll break both your legs! Apple has said very clearly that the REASON why iPhones that have been unlocked may become inoperable, is because these unlocking hacks make changes to the baseband firmware that effectively “damage” the phone.

    Anyone who knows about unlocking knows that these unlocks SURVIVE a phone restore. So, logically, the software that is upgraded, needs to be able to talk to the software that is NOT upgraded (resident and irreplaceable on the phone as part of your original activation process on a “clean” phone direct from the production line).

    Now… here’s where the LAW could ACTUALLY be against Apple. Read the Slashdot article about the “Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act”. That said, Apple insists that the unlocking software is damaging the phone, and that is the exact option under which the act does NOT apply. Is it really “damage” that unlocking programs do? Is “bricking” really an unintended consequence of upgrading to the latest OS update? I guess those are the only areas up for question.

    Don’t give people a false sense of security on faulty logic.


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