Starting Monday, feel free to unlock that cell phone and play some very old console games

With number portability already possible in the U.S., cell phone users are freely allowed to carry their numbers to whichever carrier they choose. Taking your handset with you to a new carrier, however, is a completely different story.

Many cell phone carriers “lock” their phones specifically to their network, meaning that any phone bought from one network cannot be freely used on another network using the same technology. Carriers often do this in an effort to prevent consumers from taking advantage of special subsidized phone pricing and then jumping to another service provider.

Today, the U.S. Copyright Office changed all that, and is legally allowing cell phone users to break the software locks that cell phone carriers place in their phones. However, carriers are still permitted to software lock their phones.

Also added to copyright exemptions today allow film professors copy sections from DVDs for educational compilations and let blind people use special software to read copy-protected electronic books, reports AP.

Computer programs and video game software that no longer have available the original machines required to run them on are also exempted, thus validating the use of select emulators. A bit of a monkey wrench in the emulator legality issue is that the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii all include some form of classic library emulation, possibly taking any game playable on current consoles, new or old, off the list of copyright exempted material.

"I am very encouraged by the fact that the Copyright Office is willing to recognize exemptions for archivists, cell phone recyclers and computer security experts," said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Frankly I'm surprised and pleased they were granted."

Not everything is beer and skittles with the new copyright laws, however, as certain exceptions were rejected by the Copyright Office. For example, the allowance for owners of a DVD movie to convert its content for use on a portable video player, such as an iPod, remains prohibited.

Before heading straight into copyright exception territory with reckless abandon, it must be noted that the new rules are effective starting November 27, and will expire in three years.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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