My friend Pat and some of my other friends have been asking me whether or not unlocking an iPhone is legal.
As a lawyer, I'd prefer the question to be stated in another way: Is it unlawful to unlock an iPhone? (Perhaps I'm channeling Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City, but the way the question is phrased in the law can make all the difference).
While the question can be asked more precisely, the answer, as you may have guessed, is anything but precise. But if an iPhone is unlocked, I'm pretty sure you've voided your warranty and neither Apple nor AT&T have any obligations to you.
Engadget does a great job of explaining the ins and outs of the DMCA. But, as I had initially thought (and these are only my thoughts and not advice), unlocking an iPhone: (1) would void out any warranty on the iPhone as granted to you by Apple - (c'mon, you opened it, messed around with it and invaded the OS - would you honor a warranty after all that?) and, (2) could be 'legal' per se for individuals, but try to sell it? Well reverse engineering the OS or mechanics of the iPhone on a mass-scale might implicate trade secret, patent or copyright law - if not all three, i.e., lawsuit! While this type of 'innovation' may be allowed by the Copyright Office would it be worth it?
In a larger sense, however, it's pretty fascinating that people are putting all this effort, thought and energy into unlocking the device. To be able to use it on different networks and different countries is pretty alluring. But apart from that, it demonstrates how coveted the iPhone really is. So, if you were a perverse marketing executive at Apple that wanted to push more units out the door without the back-end warranty and maintenance costs... well a great profit center awaits.