Apple sued over locking iPhones to AT&T

Class action suit wants to block the iPhone lock

Two iPhone users filed a class action suit against Apple in an effort unlock their phones from AT&T.

The plaintiffs, Zach Ward and Thomas Buchar, argue that Apple includes in the iPhone software that locks the subscriber to AT&T's network. This action, they say, violates federal anti-trust laws, because Apple has done so without getting the subscribers' "contractual consent" for the lock.

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The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Northern California, and is available online.

Among the first to report the news was CNET’s Steven Musil.

The lack of contractual consent is rooted in Apple's deal with AT&T in 2007, when the carrier became the only U.S. cellular network to offer the iPhone. According to Musil's account, the lawsuit argues that "To enforce the terms of its agreement, Apple installed software locks on the iPhone that prevented buyers from taking their devices to a competing wireless carrier."  The plaintiffs say this violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, "which includes an exception that allows handset owners to modify their phones for use on the wireless network of their choice."

"Through these actions, Apple has unlawfully stifled competition, reduced output and consumer choice, and artificially increased prices in the aftermarkets for iPhone voice and data services," according to the complaint.

The suit is asking for monetary damages, a restraining order to prevent Apple from blocking consumers who want to unlock their SIM cards, a requirement that Apple provide SIM unlock codes if requested by an iPhone owner, and finally if somewhat confusingly yet another order that would stop Apple from selling phones without "adequately disclosing" that they're locked and requiring Apple to get the consumer's contractual consent for that lock.

Musil notes that previous consumer lawsuits against the wireless carriers  over network locking led to a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, AT&T v Concepcion. The court ruled that a clause in AT&T's customer contract, which limited customers to seeking arbitration and foregoing class action, "met the basic standards of fairness."

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