Even with good instructions, activating and unlocking your iPhone isn’t very easy. It’s a cinch for a supergeek, but for regular humans without technical superpowers, the experience is more like, say, scuba diving: If you do everything right, you’ll be fine, but you really don’t want to make a mistake. That, by the way, gives AT&T and Apple a degree of protection from a major unlocking wave—unlocking an iPhone is, by my guess, something that maybe one in 20 Americans will feel comfortable doing.
[…] Did I do anything wrong? When you buy an iPhone, Apple might argue that you’ve made an implicit promise to become an AT&T customer. But I did no such thing. I told the employees at the Apple Store that I wanted to unlock it, and at no stage of the purchasing process did I explicitly agree to be an AT&T customer. There was no sneakiness; I just did something they didn’t like.
Meanwhile, lest we forget, I did just throw down more than $400 for this little toy. I’m no property-rights freak, but that iPhone is now my personal property, and that ought to stand for something. General Motors advises its customers to use “genuine parts,” but it can’t force you to buy gas from Exxon. Honda probably hates it when you put some crazy spoiler on your Civic, but no one says it’s illegal or wrong.
The worst thing that you can say about me is that I’ve messed with Apple’s right to run its business exactly the way it wants. But to my mind, that’s not a right you get in the free market or in our legal system. Instead, Apple is facing trade-offs rightly beyond its control. When people unlock phones, Apple loses revenue it was hoping for, but also gains customers who would have never bought an iPhone in the first place. That’s life.
The victory could embolden the industry in its four-year legal campaign against piracy at a time when illegal sharing of music online is exploding and dramatically reducing music sales.
In addition to providing publicity for the industry’s crackdown on Internet piracy, the verdict is likely to reinforce the notion that computer users who do become targets of lawsuits — a small fraction of the population using file-swapping networks — are better off settling.
The verdict represents at least a symbolic victory for the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group that has coordinated the music labels’ expensive legal campaign, which has recently suffered some highly publicized setbacks.
“She was in tears. She’s devastated,” Thomas’ attorney, Brian Toder, told The Associated Press. “This is a girl that lives from paycheck to paycheck, and now all of a sudden she could get a quarter of her paycheck garnished for the rest of her life.”
Toder said the plaintiff’s attorney fees are automatically awarded in such judgments under copyright law, meaning Thomas could actually owe as much as a half-million dollars. However, he said he suspects the record companies “will probably be people we can deal with.”