How a Suspected Terrorist Led to the First Unlocked Phone DMCA Conviction

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

For the first time ever, someone's been convicted of violating the DMCA for unlocking cellphones. But don't freak out! Mohamad Majed was doing two things you aren't: unlocking thousands at a time, and allegedly funneling the profits to Hezbollah.

At first blush, news that someone was convicted of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act sounds alarming, given that unlocking and jailbreaking phones was explicitly allowed by the US Copyright Office just this summer:

2) Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.


But in the aftermath of that initial allowance, comments were filed by the Copyright Office that made certain exceptions to the exceptions. Specifically:

The Register finds that the exemption should be limited to include only "used" mobile phones. The term "used," as applied in this context, refers to a mobile phone that has been activated with the carrier or provider that sold the phone at a subsidized price and that the person activating the phone must actually have used on that carrier's network.


In other words: you're free to jailbreak your own phone, but jailbreaking or unlocking for bulk reselling is still verboten.

Which brings us to Mohamad Majed.

Originally arrested in Philadelphia by the FBI in 2009 on a 33-count indictment. Implicated as part of a sting that resulted in 26 terrorism-related arrests. And purchaser, along with several accomplices, of over 10,000 purportedly stolen cellphones from an undercover officer over the course of two years, according to the superceding indictment filed against him on November 22nd.


It's anyone's guess as to how Majed went from facing literally dozens of charges to pleading guilty to one unlikely count of copyright infringement, but there seem to be two purposes achieved: he bargains down to a lesser charge, and the Feds get a precedent on the books that will help litigate bulk phone reselling in the future.

The scope of the latter will be more clear once Judge Mary McLaughlin decides a sentence and issues her opinion. But Jim Baldinger, a lawyer who's been extremely active in bulk reselling litigation, told me that he "didn't think the individual consumer needs to be concerned," largely because this summer's DMCA allowances still hold. As long as it's your phone, you're free to do with it what you will. You know, assuming you're not committing acts conspiracy. [Marketwire, Original images by Shutterstock]