Who Really Owns Your Cell Phone?

Stephen Gutowski
By Stephen Gutowski | February 22, 2013 | 4:26 PM EST

"It's a basic question of property rights. Who owns your phone at the end of the day"? That's what is at stake after a recent decision by the Librarian of Congress according to Derek Khanna of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

Before the decision came down it was perfectly legal, and popular among tech junkies, to "unlock" your cell phone or change it so that it can be used on a carrier other than the one you bought it from, Khanna said in an interview with Reason.TV.

Up until now you could download a simple program to make the cell phone you bought from, say, AT&T work on, say, T-Mobile.

However, if you did that today you could be subject to $500,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison. That's just for trying to use the phone you own with the carrier you want.

"If this is allowed to stand" Khanna said, "you don't own your phone."

After all, if the carrier you bought the phone from gets to tell you what carrier you must use the phone with, is it really yours? Shouldn't you be able to decide how to use your cell phone if you do really own it?

Reason and Derek Khanna go much further in-depth about the root cause of the phone unlocking problem, which they think is rooted in copyright law. While copyright law may be complex and in need of reform, the really interesting question here remains with the cell phones: Do you really own yours or does this ruling change that?

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