Monday, August 27, 2007

iPhone Unlocking Delayed to Possible Legal Threat

I wrote hear last week about the first person to claim to be able to unlock the iPhone, George Hotz of New Jersey. His method involved both hardware and software modifications. As you can imagine, with so many people having worked since June to unlock the iPhone, his method was bound to not be the only way to do it. In fact, two companies now claim to be able to unlock the iPhone through a software-only fix.

One of the companies, Uniquephones of Northern Ireland, had planned to make the unlocking program available on their web site this past Saturday, but founder John McLaughlin claims to have received what he interpreted to be a legal threat on behalf of AT&T before the planned launch. Though the details about this published by were vague, McLaughlin says the caller was an attorney who said he could be sued for "copyright infringement and for dissemination of Apple's intellectual property" if his company were to proceed with the unlocking software launch. Uniquephones then decided to "delay" the launch, evidently to sort out this new hurdle.

I am no lawyer, and AT&T/Apple may very well have some legal basis for their claims, I don't know. What I do know is that nearly every GSM phone can already be unlocked, so I would guess AT&T in particular would have a difficult time standing on any legal ground due to the fact that the unlocking of phones has never been strongly challenged by providers before. More importantly though, even if they do have strong legal footing for their actions, any action made by AT&T or Apple about this would fly in the face of the direction where interactive technology has been headed for some time.

Open source is becoming dominant, and not just as a software license, but as technological ideology.

Customers have demonstrated time and time again they do not want proprietary solutions that lock them in with one provider. Microsoft is finding this out each day as the market share of Linux distributions continually rises. Open source is becoming dominant, and not just as a software license, but as technological ideology. AT&T may argue that they have a business interest in preventing unlocks in order to keep customers from changing service providers and still being able to use the iPhone. Customers don't care about business decisions like this, they care about a good product. If AT&T is the best provider out there, people will stay with them. If AT&T service declines, customers should be able to go elsewhere. That is the real business decision that both AT&T and Apple should be concerned about.

AT&T may win the first few rounds of any legal battle that takes place. But they will lose in the long run.

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