An edict from the Library of Congress is about to make phone unlocking illegal for the first time in 6 years. The decision, issued in October, is part of a triennial process whereby the Librarian of Congress hands out exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The two previous batches of regulations, issued in 2006 and 2010, respectively, granted users permission to unlock their phones in order to switch wireless carriers. But in the wake of a 2010 decision holding that software is licensed rather than sold, the Library reversed itself and declared phone unlocking illegal once again. The Librarian was also influenced by claims that there are more unlocked phones on the market than there were three years ago.
The new ruling comes with a grandfather clause. It will continue to be legal to unlock phones purchased before Saturday, January 26. But if you unlock a phone purchased after that date you could be liable under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the "circumvention" of copy protection schemes.