We're here to talk about your right to unlock, modify, and repair everything you own. No, we don't know how to open this safe. But if it had a digital lock, opening it might involve violating the DMCA.

We don't really own our things. Copyright laws and big-media lobbyists have been taking away our freedoms, and it's time to fight back. We should have the right to do anything we want with our stuff!

We asked the Librarian of Congress to make it legal to jailbreak game consoles, and instead he decided to criminalize unlocking cell phones. He's 83 years old, and doesn't really get the internet.

That wasn't cool with us, so Sina put together a White House petition that reddit (and a few others) rallied around, raising a massive groundswell of support with a record-setting 114,000 signatures. The White House responded and asked Congress to re-legalize phone unlocking. Congress is now working on doing just that. Thanks, everyone!

Copyright is a blunt instrument being used to protect the profits of large companies in ways that do not benefit society. We should have the right to unlock our stuff. We should have the right to fix our things.

Proof: Kyle — kwiens, Sina — sinakh. We can take 100 horse sized ducks.

Because you are all awesome, here's $5 off any iFixit tools or parts: redditlove322

Get involved! We outnumber the MPAA and RIAA, we can change things if enough of us stand up for our rights:

Update: All right, that's a wrap. Thanks everyone, we both had a lot of fun. This fight is just beginning, and we're going to need all the help we can get. Reddit is the first line of defense.

Comments: 421 • Responses: 64  • Date: 

iamaredditer205 karma

Well If I can buy a car and make mods to it or buy a computer and mod it. I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to mod a phone or anything else. Good Luck guys!

kwiens166 karma

Thanks. The issue is software infecting the hardware world. If they put an encrypted interface to your car, it would be illegal to unencrypt it and modify it, thanks to section 1201 of the DMCA. That's gotta change.

cowboyjosh201075 karma

This is the kind of shit that makes me hesitant to ever buy a car made in the past decade. If I can't fix it myself, it better be because I don't have the proper lift, or the tool to do it is prohibitively expensive to buy for one repair. If I can't fix it because the software went bad and I can't plug into it to fix it, then we're gonna have problems.

kwiens67 karma

I'm pretty happy with my '92 Accord. No electronics to be seen. That's probably why I'm at 265k miles now. But it just developed a coolant leak, so I know what I'll be doing this weekend!

fl4tlander13 karma

On the other hand, OBDII is a great thing as it is a standard and open interface that makes it a helluva lot simpler to get data out of your car. There are caveats to it, such as some faults that are due to bad sensors rather than anything wrong with the vehicle. But getting a code that says "misfire in cylinder #4" gives me an immediate point to jump to in diagnosing the problem. Without that information, I'd be wasting time and money swapping plugs and wires or running compression tests just to figure out what cylinder is causing the problem.

mdjorie24 karma

The post-'96, pre-late-2000s cars hit the sweet spot: they had OBD II ports, but were devoid of crazy electronic nannies and gremlins.

My DD is a '98 Accord, and that's almost as good as it gets.

kwiens11 karma


ascaso11 karma

Well, I feel like that is likely ALREADY the case with many cars. They all have lots and lots of chips in them. How many of those chips are we allowed to access, inspect, etc., without violating something like DMCA?

kwiens33 karma

It totally depends on whether they're encrypted.

There are two questions here:

  • Legally, can you modify the code on the chips?
  • Practically, will anyone do it?

Right now, we're focused on the first issue—guaranteeing your right to tinker. That's why we need to repeal Section 1201 of the DMCA.

But for repairs, the time to reverse engineer those chips is so significant that you would never be able to do so in the process of fixing a car. For many repairs, access to service documentation and diagnostics are critical. That's why Massachusetts just passed Right to Repair legislation requiring service information be made available. Independent auto mechanics were worried they wouldn't be able to stay in business.

I think we need Right to Repair legislation for electronics as well as autos.

SeasonFinale37 karma

I agree with your sentiment, but this is actually a terrible argument -- comparable to the silly anti-piracy "you wouldn't download a car" analogy.

See, when you buy a car and keep it in your garage, you can do whatever you want with it. But if you ever drive your car on public roads, there are TONS of regulations about what you can and can't do, including restrictions on:

  • types of headlights allowed
  • mufflers and noise restrictions
  • emissions regulation
  • types of gasoline allowed
  • degree and location of window tint
  • etc.

So if you buy a phone and keep it off the cellular networks, then it's like the car in your garage. But if you buy a phone and use it on a shared public network (public/private distinction not relevant here), then it's like a car you drive on roads, and you CAN'T just mod it however you want.

While most of the draconian DRM/DMCA measures may stem from copyright issues and antiquated media business models, it doesn't change the fact that when you "own" something that requires shared infrastructure to operate, you have to play by SOME rules or else it all goes to shit. Are the current rules fair and good? No. But at least be honest about the situation and your car analogy.

sinakh30 karma

The current DMCA regulations aren't restricting how your use your phone on a carrier's network. That's achieved by the contract you sign with the carriers when you sign up. The DMCA goes so far as to restrict what you can do with your phone in general, even if it's not connected to a network. That's the problem with how the DMCA anti-circumvention problems are written, and that's what we're trying to fix.

jdrury11 karma

Its my device and I should be able to do what I want with it. It is as simple as that.

sinakh18 karma

That's the "fair use" argument, but unfortunately the DMCA's anti-circumventions provisions really don't play well with our intuitive understand of ownership. And that's exactly what we're trying to have fixed.

ThotBot121 karma

Do you guys ever think about the broader political/ideological implications of your activities? You're basically putting the individual consumer at the center of the universe...do you see a dark side to that, or is that the whole point? Do you even think in terms of the consequences to society of something like "universal unlocking of everything" - or do you believe that the significance ends at the devices (ie: that it's just device-tweaking and there is no broader political dimension to the activity). Is it possible for an 83 year old to have a well-reasoned attitude towards the internet, or are all people that old hopelessly analog and therefore irrelevant? Appreciate your thoughts!

kwiens173 karma

I like you.

Yes, I think about that a lot. I believe in free markets and allowing individuals to make informed decisions. The choices we make have a large impact. Are we going to run out of resources? What's the human cost of mining enough material to manufacture 2.2 billion cell phones every year? What's the social cost to the rural villages stripped of young people because they all moved to the city to work in the Foxconn plant? Manufacturing is a train run amuck, clamoring for growth at all costs. You cannot grow a linear economy on a planet with finite resources forever. We have to move beyond manufacturing.

It's critical for the future of our society that the products we manufacture are sustainable. I've written about this in Wired several times:

Consumers are the fuel driving manufacturing—we're the demand side of the curve. That's why I'm so focused on empowering individuals to make their own decisions.

But we need the knowledge to make informed decisions, and products today are so complex that it's hard to be informed. Every purchase decision we make is a vote, but we don't have an unbiased voter's pamphlet. When I go to Home Depot to buy a power drill, I have no idea which drill is going to last 10 years, or if DeWalt will still be selling new batteries for my drill in a few years.

The challenge is that in groups we act like sheep, and large companies like Apple know how to push us in directions that make them a lot of money. By making it inconvenient to change the battery in an iPhone, for example. Anyone (and I do mean anyone) can change the battery in an iPhone 4—they just need a special screwdriver and a $25 battery. But millions of people are buying new, $600 iPhone 5s because it's more convenient.

We have to make repairing products just as convenient as buying new ones. That's what iFixit is all about.

Is it possible for an 83 year old to have a well-reasoned attitude towards the internet, or are all people that old hopelessly analog and therefore irrelevant

I would hope so! But I imagine it would take some time—there's a lot of context he's missing that we have, and vice versa. I'm sure that there's a lot that I could learn from Mr. Billington. Maybe I should drop by his library sometime and see if he'll show me around!

sinakh60 karma

Couldn't agree more with Kyle's answer on this. I think there's three good really good reasons for promoting the ability for people to "unlock/modify/repair" everything:

  • The right to repair is important for sustainability and protecting the environment.
  • Making modifications, repair etc legal means that people can learn about how their devices work. That makes them better consumers.
  • By modding/repairing/unlocking we can find the security holes in our devices before the bad guys do.

zillin15 karma

Not only that, but modding/repairing/unlocking allows us to create new things that big companies wouldn't - allowing further development that causes more competition for companies (for example - stuff like games that aren't approved by apple for the iPhone, but this can even be extended to hardware improvements). More competition is ALWAYS better, as more people striving for your money vote means they're going to try harder and make better products.

sinakh12 karma

Exactly - modding/repairing etc result in a load of innovation - they allows devices to be used in ways that the original manufacturers authors couldn't even imagine.

By putting things like jailbreaking in a legal grey area, the DMCA prevents untold amounts of innovation. As it stands, no technology that relies on circumventing some form of software lock will receive venture funding, or have serious amounts of developer time dedicated to it. Things like Cydia and Evasi0n are exceptions, but imagine how much more could be done if that kind of innovation was completely legalized.

EngineerVsMBA116 karma

(Design engineer here)

Why should I tailor my design to the .1% of the market who cares about repairing their design, instead of the 50% of the market who would rather have an extra 1mm shaved off the case, or who would rather save $.50 due to a more efficient factory assembly methodology?

kwiens124 karma

Good question.

Just because the first owner doesn't fix it, doesn't mean no one will. Eventually, 100% of the products you design will fail. The battery will wear out or someone will drop it. The need for repair is just about as inevitable as taxes.

Products that have long lives have much higher resale value. Toyota trucks sell for a significant premium over Ford trucks of the same year with the same mileage. And people care about how much they're going to be able to get for their used product a year down the line, even if they're not interested in ever fixing it themselves.

Large purchasers are increasingly paying attention to design lifespan. I know purchasers at very large organizations that are horrified by the prospect of a glued in battery with a 2-3 year life. They have to get a better return on their investment than that.

As an engineer myself, I think it's an ethical imperative that our products make the world better. Creating products like electronics that are incredibly resource intensive is a great responsibility. The amount of fresh water used up in IC fabrication is shocking, and even Intel's advanced filtration technology can't keep up with the rising production demand. There are about fifty elements used in a cell phone, and only 20 or so can be recovered in recycling. No one is recovering rare earth metals from recycled circuit boards, so we're increasingly dependent on raw materials from China.

McKinsey just did a big study of the electronics ecosystem focusing on cell phones, and came to the conclusion that a sustainable cell phone industry is going to require substantially more refurbishment and repair than is happening now.

Combined, electronics OEMs made 2.2 billion cell phones in 2012. I don't think it's necessary to make 7 billion cell phones every year (one for every person in the world).

Developing an electronics economy that is sustainable is a significant engineering challenge, but I think we're up to the task.

Brianwilsonsbeard162 karma

Hey! I wrote a repair guide for a Fender guitar amp for you guys for my technical writing class at Cal Poly SLO! My question is what sort of compromise could you foresee that would both allow use consumers to do what we wish with our products, while still protecting the intellectual property of the numerous companies we purchase our products from?

kwiens59 karma

For those who are interested, here's their Fender repair manual. Great job!

The question is what intellectual property needs to be protected? There are already lots of laws that protect Fender from you starting a competitor and using their patented designs or trademarked logo and case styling.

In the case of electronics, all the design engineers I know tell me that by the time a product has shipped, they assume that it's obsolete. They know their competitors will be taking it apart and analyzing it.

Sharing information needed for repairs doesn't really make it any easier to clone a product. A number of manufacturers—Dell and HP, for example—provide service manuals on their website already. And iFixit's Apple service manuals didn't prevent (or factor in at all with) their lawsuit against Samsung.

My opinion is that the laws we have are substantially the result of a) unintended consequences of the fight against media piracy; b) Cell carriers using the law to enforce a monopoly; and c) a strategy of planned obsolescence.

benjedwards21 karma

Hey guys, awesome AMA.

Don't forget that the DMCA's anti-circumvention provision also threatens our cultural history and heritage by preventing archivists and librarians from making legal backups of DRM-protected works.


The anti-circumvention section needs to go. DRM can still exist; it just won't be illegal to break it. Works will still be protected by copyright. There's no reason other than greed and extreme lust for control to legally force digital locks upon the world.

kwiens9 karma


sinakh8 karma

Totally true. Loved that post Benj, thanks for writing it.

ArchdukeFerdinand20 karma

Do you believe that the right to unlock everything you own applies to software, such as games licensed from digital distribution services like Steam or Origin?

sinakh31 karma

My answer to this is pretty much the same as to your_friends_cat's question below. Creating backup copies for archival purposes isn't copyright infringement, as long as you destroy the copy if you sell or return the original (which I guess isn't really possible on Steam or Origin, right?).

The problem is, the technology needed to create legal backups is prohibited by the DMCA.

More worryingly, the DMCA is also being used to silence security researchers looking to discuss and publish their research about the safety and security of these kinds of DRM systems. That weakens security for all parties involved, including, ironically, the copyright owners who are relying on DRM to begin with.

As an example, in 2001 J Alex Haldermann (then a grad student at Princeton), found several security vulnerabilities in DRM measures in Sony-BMG CDs. But he had to hold back on publishing his findings because of concerns about punishment under the DMCA, leaving millions of music fans at risk longer than necessary.

At the moment, public advocacy groups have to go through a long process involving lots of lawyer time to ask for exemptions to the DMCA, and more often than not, those aren't granted - and that's what we're asking Congress to fix. Security researchers requested an exemption from the DMCA to facilitate research on security on DRM systems in 2003, but like the recent unlocking exemption, that exemption was denied. In 2006 one was granted, but it only covers CDs and not other DRM-protected media.

This is the crappy system we're rallying against.

As it stands, the public has to ask the Librarian of Congress (an unelected official) every three years to be able to use the products they buy in non-copyright-infringing way. More often than not, those requests are denied. And as similar software and "protection measures" find their way in everything we own (printer cartridges, garage door openers, farming equipment, cars ...), the situation is going to get pretty dire.

Which is exactly why we're try to rally the troops to fix it.


The problem is, the technology needed to create legal backups is prohibited by the DMCA.

Could you explain this? According to 103f of the DCMA, the section called "Reverse Engineering", it seems that you could legally reverse engineer Steam encryption for the purpose of creating a backup.

It looks to me that the real issue at hand comes from a federal court decision, Bowers v. Baystate Technologies (2003) that said agreeing to a terms of use contract overrides the DCMA law.

sinakh10 karma

So there are definitely two issues here. There's the DMCA, and there's the way in which contract law can limit your ability to use the things you buy. We're targeting the first.

The problem is that the DMCA's reverse engineering exemptions are very narrowly defined. Take a look at EFF's Unintended Consequences document for some examples of where they haven't been enough to protect people. In many cases (unlocking and jailbreaking included), reverse engineering falls in a legal grey area that's a sufficient deterrent to prevent people from pursuing innovative projects.

I'd also really recommend taking a look at The Misapplication of the DMCA to the Aftermarket paper by Marcus Howell. In it he describes conflicting case law regarding the reverse engineering exemptions, specifically in the Lexmark vs SCC (after-market print cartridges) and Chamberlain vs Skylink (garage door opener) cases:

Although both circuit courts have ruled in favor of the aftermarket manufacturer, neither case conclusively holds that aftermarket manufacturers are free from DMCA liability. In Chamberlain, the Federal Circuit refused to find a DMCA violation because the plaintiff failed to prove lack of authority.161 Although the court found that DMCA plaintiffs have a “significant burden” of proof to show defendant’s access was unauthorized, it failed to determine whether such a showing would settle the DMCA violation issue.162 In Lexmark the Sixth Circuit instead focused on whether plaintiff’s underlying copyright work was encrypted or otherwise protected.163 However, it is a simple matter to encrypt such software, and the use of such encryption may change the outcome in a future case dealing with aftermarket products. Uncertainty in the case law can create significant market confusion, which in turn can lead to higher consumer prices and less innovation by copyright holders and aftermarket competitors.

Esc_ape_artist16 karma

You guys are great! A Maker Manifesto for all! I'm tired of the consumption based, throwaway society we have today. We need to get corporations to relinquish this tight-fisted control over everything they manufacture for "sale" (quotes to indicate that they say "sold", even though the consumer often own much of what was purchased) that encourages, no - demands, that merchandise gets thrown away and replaced new to maximize profits.

What do you see as the best avenue, personally and as citizens, to encourage people, the government, and companies to pursue the ability to repair our merchandise?

kwiens24 karma

iFixit has a repair manifesto, and we're fighting to uphold the rights it claims.

Great question.

  • Fix and unlock your stuff! Every product you fix is a victory against planned obsolescence.
  • Help us build a free repair manual for everything! Join the thousands of people all around the world contributing to make iFixit the largest repair manual in the world.
  • Sign up at fixthedmca.org and let people know you want DMCA 1201 repealed.

We're building a coalition to fight for access to unlocking tools, service manuals, diagnostics, and everything else we need to repair products. If the people of Massachusetts can stand up for their local auto repair shop, we of the internet can certainly stand up for the right to open our electronics.

sinakh11 karma

What do you see as the best avenue, personally and as citizens, to encourage people, the government, and companies to pursue the ability to repair our merchandise?

Super important question - thank you!

It's something I've been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks since starting the White House petition and then building out FixtheDMCA. It's not even specific to just repair and unlocking, but applies more generally: how can we get our voices heard in Congress on issues that matter to us.

The cover story of this month's Washington Monthly, "He Who Makes The Rules" is a fascinating read. The article goes in-depth on how billions of dollars have been spent by banks to gut the Dodd-Frank banking regulations that were put into law a couple of years back, and how 2/3rds of that law haven't been enacted as a result.

With the Internet going through something of a political awakening (spurred by folks like Fight for the Future) there's a real opportunity for us to use software to disrupt the way DC works. Campaigns like Lawrence Lessig's Rootstrikers are challenging the corrupting influence of money in Washington, but I'm really eager to see a single platform arise that helps folks rally around a cause and make real change happen.

The White House's WeThePeople site is a really novel experiment in putting that kind of influence in people's hands, but I think a truly innovative platform will have to come from us, the people, directly. Nationbuilder and Amicus have also been doing some great work in this space, and I've got lots of ideas on this space too. hopefully you'll see more of them start popping up on FixtheDMCA.org soon. Depending on how they work out, I'd love to work with others to implement them on other campaigns too.

RambleMan15 karma

My 68-year-old mother replaced the battery in her MacBook Air by herself a couple of days ago thanks to you guys. You rock!

kwiens7 karma

Awesome! Got any photos?

We collect repair stories over here.

hearherenow13 karma

Are you giving away free 6inch rulers? because they are $2.99 and redditlove322 gives $5 off.

kwiens17 karma


synthparadox13 karma

How do you think the rise of 3D printing is going to affect your iFixit business? Do you believe scanning the 3D models of little plastic pieces be subject to DMCA takedowns? And if so, would you consider addressing that on your fixthedmca.org site?

kwiens18 karma

I'm really excited about 3D printing. We haven't seen a ton of practical 3D printable repair parts, but that day is coming.

The legal issues around printing 3D parts are pretty different from the copyright concerns around unlocking (circumventing encryption) and access to service manuals and diagnostics. With printing objects, you run into problems with 3D patents and trademarks. If it's legal for a third party to make a replacement handle for your refrigerator, it should be legal for you to 3D print one. But that's by no means certain, and I think it's going to be a significant fight in the coming years.

There have already been some DMCA takedowns of 3D files, but IANAL and I couldn't say exactly what the implications are.

A major challenge for small companies like ours is uncertainty. Let's say I create a 3D file of my door handle, post it to iFixit, get sued by a major manufacturer, and my lawyers tell me I have a strong legal case for fair use. Going to trial could cost millions of dollars—money the manufacturer may be willing to spend, but that we wouldn't be able to afford.

This is a big reason why you don't see very many people standing up to the OEMs. It's also why it's critical that we financially support fantastic organizations like the EFF, Public Knowledge, Free Press, and others who are willing to fight long fights on behalf of us consumers. Free markets need clarity.

That said, iFixit is totally happy to host any 3D models of spare parts people want to throw up on our servers, as long as the files were independently created.

Blue_Alien2 karma

As a Cal Poly SLO Electrical Engineering student who built a 3d printer this summer, I support IFixit hosting models.

kwiens6 karma

Let's get started uploading some models, then!

wwcd10 karma

Now that's it's illegal; what are the chances of getting caught? Is it easy for phone providers to track down an unlocked cell phone? Will they actively go after people? Or do you think it's going to be more like illegal torrenting where they'll go after the big fish (ie people marketing unlocking/jailbreaking services) and maybe cherry pick a few unlockers here and there to make an example out of them?

kwiens18 karma

The odds of them coming after you or me are very low. I'm not sure that they could detect remotely whether a phone has been unlocked—it would probably come down to how accurate their database is and whether there is data sharing between the carriers.

It's the folks making the unlocking software—like geohot and the iPhone dev team—as well as refurbishers and resellers. Companies like Recellular unlock millions of cell phones per year. If they can't do that, the used phone market will be significantly disrupted. It will become extremely expensive to buy unlocked phones, and your old locked phone won't be worth nearly as much.

It's crazy that intellectual property law is interfering with the free market of physical products like this. It's farcical. Imagine if Ford cut a deal with a toll road company and didn't allow you to drive your car on another company's roads!

We need to find ways of educating policy makers about the impact of applying policies designed to prevent piracy to physical hardware.

Uklurker8 karma

Do you ever break a item while disassembling it? e.g. If you cracked a Ipad digitizer as you removed it while doing a break down


kwiens10 karma

Yes. Specifically with the iPad, it was glued together. It took us breaking about five iPads before we developed a technique for opening iPads without harming the glass. Even then, we kept fiddling and improving our methodology.

Ihmhi8 karma

How do you guys feel about "anti-fixer" hardware like security screws or Torx?

I had to open up my coffee maker to unclog it and they had flathead screws with a little bar in the middle - you'd need a flathead screwdriver that kinda looked like a two-pronged fork.

So, I went into the basement and filed down a screwdriver and made one.

kwiens11 karma

I don't really think Torx is anti-fixer—it's a pretty standard tool, there are good technical reasons for it (screws don't strip as easily), and the patent on it has expired (way back in '91).

Security bits and tools like Apple's Pentalobe driver are just consumer-hostile.

I have a friend who just spilled liquid on her MacBook Air this afternoon and needs to open up the case to dry it out. But she doesn't have the right sized pentalobe bit already, and it's going to take a few days to mail her one.

There are lots of very good reasons to need to get into your hardware. Over the long run, educated consumers are going to avoid manufacturers that resort to dirty tricks to guarantee obsolescence.

By the way: if you're in the DC area and have a MB Air Pentalobe, PM me!

mattheww3 karma

Random idea: Mail Pentalobe drivers to libraries in major metro areas, so people can locally access them without the hassle?

kwiens5 karma

There's a growing group of tool libraries where they do just that. I think it's a fantastic idea—we recently wrote a story about the West Seattle Tool Library, which is very successful.

ServerGeek6 karma

Everything that you guys take apart and breakdown.. do you pay for those out-of-pocket, or are they given to you by the manufacturers? How do they feel about you doing that?

kwiens22 karma

Great question. We buy everything at retail, just like Consumer Reports. Since we're rating the repairability, it's important that we get the same hardware that you would buy at the store.

That gets a little expensive, particularly with out-of-contract cell phones (we'll be taking apart the Blackberry Z10 soon), but it's worth it. You can't tell how hard it'll be to repair something without taking it apart, and we've taken it on as our sworn duty to educate people before they find out the hard way.

We posted a tablet repairability matrix the other day.

cajaks26 karma

Why isn't there a way to sort the amount of devices on your website by their repairability score?

kwiens4 karma

Because we haven't gotten to it yet! But that's a great idea. Our tablet repairability page is our first stab at something like that.

Lyzdog6 karma

Hi guys. Been using your site for years.

I love everything you do except for one thing: offer us old techs the information to the parts #'s that we need to fix our machines.

You offer the guides, but not the part #'s needed to get the cheapest parts we need, instead, you sell them at a premium.

This is obvious, and I'd like to hear your reasoning behind this decision, as you used to offer part numbers within your guides.

Is is purely profit-driven? That's fine. Just want an answer.

For what its worth, I don't even repair machines anymore, but I couldn't believe you went from a massively-trusted resource to a clouded repair company that offers over-priced parts.

Thanks, either way.

kwiens7 karma

We list Apple part #s on all our product pages. I don't think we're hiding anything! Let me know if something is missing. Also, you can always edit a guide to add the part numbers in. We've got an entire editable part database where you can add alternate suppliers.

lastnameever6 karma

how can I unlock my HTC one?

sinakh13 karma

Haha, now that's a specific question. There's a bunch of companies out there providing these kinds of services, a few reasonably reputable ones I'd recommend:

  • Cell-Unlocker
  • GSMLiberty
  • Cell-Unlock (disclaimer, I started that site when I was back in college, and my brother sohailk now owns it.) Back in the day I only sold Motorola unlock software that I'd written, which subsequently triggered a Cease and Desist from Motorola that got me into this whole thing.

jose_jones5 karma

what are the pros and cons of unlocking things such as apple and google tv devices. Does this open me up to malware attacks and such issues?

sinakh8 karma

Great question.

It's not so much the act of unlocking/jailbreaking devices that opens you up to malware/viruses, but the fact that security bugs exist in the software. Those bugs make it possible for you to jailbreak, but also make it possible for (blackhat) hackers to write evil software.

By jailbreaking your devices you're often giving up the manufacturer's protection, but in doing so you're gaining the ability to protect yourself. After you jailbreak your device you can close the software loophole that makes it possible, and protect yourself.

The worst situation is the one that exists at the moment, where it's legally problematic for researchers and developers to openly discuss the loopholes that exist and to make software to show how those loopholes work. That makes the whole ecosystem less secure for both normal users and those who'd want to jailbreak their devices.

patalbwil4 karma

I just want to tell you that I love your website and that you have saved me hundreds of dollars in repair costs for my Apple products via ifixit.com. Thanks!

kwiens7 karma

I paid patalbwil to say that.

Slagard3 karma

MJ is the best host you have had on iFixit. Hands down.

kwiens4 karma

Thanks! Here's MJ's take on the cell phone unlocking situation.

allintensivepurposes3 karma

Just last Friday I used your website to fix my Galaxy Nexus (grandfathered in to unlimited data) with nothing more than eye glasses screwdrivers and some guitar picks. Thank you for saving me from a 5fb download limit or having to pay $600 for an unlocked phone. You guys rock!

CharlesAnonymousVII3 karma


kwiens8 karma

The customer has to pay an early termination fee, I assume. Who gets that money?

CharlesAnonymousVII2 karma


theenglishguy723 karma

Thats the problem then.

Not the actual unlocking, but that the carrier gets the early termination fee instead of you.

CharlesAnonymousVII3 karma


kwiens7 karma

The customer is not actually breaking the contract, they're exercising an option in the contract to end the monthly service in exchange for paying an early termination fee.

Your problem is that the carrier wrote the contract, and likely also wrote the business contract with you. Your contract sounds one-sided—the fair thing would be for you to receive a portion of the termination fee to repay you for your subsidy. You're getting squeezed on both ends.

sinakh2 karma

I agree that's a pretty crappy deal. In a truly free market, you'd get to choose to resell the carriers that give you the best deal. Unfortunately, that's often not the case in world of cell phones.

Kn1nJa2 karma

With the recent screenshots of xbox durango, do you think that we are moving toward a time where the used game market will cease to exist?

kwiens11 karma

You bought it, you should own it. That applies to music you buy from iTunes, or from Steam, or from the secret XBox market of the future.

But the trend right now is away from ownership, and towards licensing. Apple is very careful to never say that you own the music you download from iTunes.

There's a fantastic group of people working to guarantee your rights to resell the things you buy called the Owner's Rights Initiative. They won a huge victory in the Supreme Court this week in the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case, verifying that it is legal to resell products in the US that were made overseas. Seems commonsense, but those are the sort of basic battles we have to fight.

If that verdict had gone the other way, we might be talking about whether it's legal to resell your old cell phone—now that would have been a step backwards.

exceptionalmind2 karma

How did you guys get your background and unlocking abilities?

sinakh3 karma

Ah, what a fun question to answer. Here goes:

After spending a couple of years of high school in the US, I decided I needed a break and went back to the UK (where I'd grown up) for college. When I flew back for the first semester of college, I took my AT&T-locked Motorola cell phone with me, and lo and behold it wouldn't work because of the SIM lock. I didn't have the money to buy a new phone, so instead I spent ages trying to figure out how to reverse engineer their software to unlock it. I finally did figure it out, and realizing that other people were probably having the same problem, I worked with a Romanian programmer to commercialize my hack into software that worked. Then I launched Cell-Unlock.com (now run my brother) and started selling it.

And then I luck kicked in. A few months after I started selling the software, Motorola released the V3 RAZR. The RAZR inspired the same kind of lust that the iPhone did when it was first released, and Motorola sold 130 million of those things over a 6-year run. Since I was pretty much the only person selling software to unlock their devices, business boomed.

But about 6 months in, just as sales of my RAZR unlocking software was beginning to get going, Motorola sent me a cease and desist letter saying I was in violation of the DMCA for selling tools that circumvent a "technological protection measure." That scared the shit out of me, but got me doing lots of research into fair use, copyright law, and the DMCA. Knowing that I didn't stand a chance against a corporation like Motorola, I was pretty much ready to shut down shop and close the website - I even drafted a letter back to Motorola to that effect.

Someone (I wish I could trace who, but my college emails from back then got wiped somewhere along the line) introduced me to Jennifer Granick of Stanford Cyberlaw. She represented me pro bono, Motorola eventually stopped responding to our letters, and then Jennifer went on to petition the Librarian of Congress to add an exemption to the DMCA for unlocking phones. Which worked!

Then in October 2012 the Librarian removed the exemption that Jennifer had convinced them to add. I didn't hear about that ruling when it happened, but I got wind of it just as the ruling was about to go into effect, on January 23rd. That's when I started the petition to the White House asking them to reverse the ruling. Thanks to you guys at Reddit upvoting the petition to the front page multiple times, along with lots of supportive press from tech journalists, the petition made it to 100k signatures. As that was happening though, I came to realize that it'd be much better to treat the root cause of the problem, rather than just one of the symptions - hence all the efforts at http://fixthedmca.org.

Here's a blog post I wrote with that whole story in more detail.

dgouldin2 karma

Unlocking cell phones is pretty straightforward and a sensible target to start with. However, the overarching concept of everyday technology cast in the light of a "circumvention device" is troubling. What can be done to mitigate the risk of losing control of, for instance, whether or not we can disable javascript in our browsers due to DMCA restrictions?

Thanks for your work on fixthedmca.org. It makes me happy to see these discussions becoming more visible!

sinakh1 karma

Great question. We're starting with the narrow goal of getting an unlocking exemption added, but in the long term I think we need reform that'll cover any similar cases: i.e. when circumvention of a protection measure is done for non-infringing reasons.

The point about disabling javascript in a browser is tricky, and I wonder if it might be subject to DMCA restrictions. To be honest it seems perhaps a little far fetched; given that the functionality to disable javascript is built into the browser, I think people like Google, Apple and Microsoft would actually be responsible for distributing the tools.

paulsocal2 karma

Great AMA guys! Whats up Sina!? Got one question for you guys. What would some of the incentives for a product manufacturer be if unlocking was illegal? I'm not sure I understand why manufacturers would care about what I do with their product after I purchased it.

sinakh3 karma

Hey Paul! Companies are using digital locks to maximize their revenue, to the customer's disadvantage. A cell phone lock means that you can't take your cell phone and use it on another carrier, even after your contract's over. So if you don't want to have to pay for a new phone, your stuck with your current network. And if you do want to switch, you have to pony up however much a new phone costs.

In the case of jailbreaking/rooting, the phone manufacturer doesn't want you buying software from a third party (Cydia, for example), because they don't get a cut.

BigBlueSkies2 karma

Is the Surface Pro really that bad?

kwiens3 karma

Yes. But don't take my word for it—CNET / Techrepublic also took it apart, and came to the same conclusions that we did.

From their report: "[Microsoft] took one of worst tablet design elements (a glued on front panel) and married it with one of the worst laptop elements (an over abundance of screws) to create a device that’s more difficult to crack open than even the Apple iPad."

dyrtjones2 karma

Just wanted to say thanks for the wealth of information you provide. When I taught my ACMT course in Las Vegas I recommended your site over Apples GSX for out of warranty repairs. Used it myself frequently and will continue to even though I'm no longer a technician.

kwiens3 karma

Thanks! And please, help us get better. There's an edit button on every step and we need all the people with technical expertise we can get.

your_friends_cat2 karma

Do you support being able to play game backups of titles, that you purchased, on consoles, that you own? If not, why not?

sinakh8 karma

Creating backup copies for archival purposes isn't copyright infringement. CDs, DVDs and BlueRays are super easy to scratch (the number of FIFA disks my nephew has ruined attest to this). But to keep things legal under section 117, you should only use your backup disks if the original are damaged, and you have to destroy the backup if you sell the original.

DRM systems combined with the "anti-circumvention" provisions of Section 1201 of the DMCA make it illegal to distribute software needed for creating backups, which causes tension’ with both Section 117 of the Copyright Act and the idea of fair use. All the more reason to FixtheDMCA.

All this reminds me of the wonderful Don't Copy that Floppy video, which you should certainly watch.


I replied to a different comment, but since this came up again...

You reference Section 1201 103a of the DCMA, however section 103f says the following-

(1)Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a)(1)(A), a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs


The information acquired through the acts permitted under paragraph (1), and the means permitted under paragraph (2), may be made available to others if the person referred to in paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be, provides such information or means solely for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title or violate applicable law other than this section.

To me this reads like for the sake of creating an independent program (e.g., Blu Ray backup ripper) you could legally reverse engineer any DRM/encryption and share the software with others.

sinakh2 karma

Thanks MBHN - just replied to your previous comment here.

Laxmin1 karma

I am even more pissed that US's draconian laws are also affecting legislature around the world.

My country, India, although long had copyright laws, was pretty liberal about it and depended on individual legal interpretation of each case of infringement based on circumstances in the court.

Today, our legislature has been influenced by both US precedents as well as the 'Lobby' into enacting overarching, blanket laws with tougher penalties, mirroring whats happening in the US.

This IMO, is one of the worse aspects of DMCA. aka, exporting copyright terror.

kwiens1 karma

You're absolutely right, US copyright laws have been particularly virulent and are influencing legislation around the world in all sorts of unfortunate ways.

We need to do a better job of convincing our legislators that America doesn't need protectionist IP policy to compete in the global market.

sinakh2 karma

One of the big issues Congress faces in trying to reform Copyright Law is that a lot of the existing legislative language has also been codified in international agreements. That means every time we change something like the DMCA, the US Trade Representatives have to go around renegotiating multiple trade agreements.

Imperium_pdp1 karma

I have an old samsung flip phone that I've been tring to unlock for quite a long time now. I was wondering if either of you had any insight or tricks to help me. Anything helps. Thanks.

sinakh1 karma

:). Try checking out my answer to this question

wildtrail1 karma

Hello guys! Huge fan of your website. I have 3 questions.

  1. I have used your website to repair a Macbook Pro. I redirect people to your site for a lot of their Apple (and console) problems. I love the idea of a centralized repository of all this knowledge. Is it possible to expand this to cover all devices?

  2. I am sure you guys receive a lot of traffic. How do you monetize this traffic?

  3. If unlocking under contract cell phones is legal. What incentive do mobile carriers have to incentivize high end cell phones?

kwiens2 karma

Good questions.

  1. Yes, we're working hard to do it. The problem is that we can't take the manufacturer service manuals and post them on iFixit because of copyright law. If it was legal, we'd have service manuals for everything! So we have to write everything from scratch. You can help—take some photos the next time you fix something and post the seed of a new repair manual.
  2. We sell parts and tools. We don't accept or run any ads.
  3. Locking phones isn't required to keep you on a carrier. You already have a contract! The early termination fee should cover any costs to them from your subsidized handset.

weischris1 karma

Just wanted to say Thanks for making such great tools. They guides are pretty awesome too, but the tools are sweet. Just got my Magnetic Project Mat and I love it. Any way you want to sponsor an IT guy and give me a bunch of tools? Keep up the great work!

kwiens2 karma

Shameless plug: I love my Pro Tech Toolkit, and the Magnetic Project Mat has changed how I fix things.

notmyfakereddit1 karma

Thanks for the work that you guys do. I now check iFixit before I buy any electronics and just might possibly have some unlocked phones and devices :)

I had a Transformer Prime for a month before its screen fell from my bag two feet onto concrete and spidered. The repair process for that thing is ridiculous- never again will I buy something that cannot be repaired at least reasonably.

kwiens2 karma

That's a smart idea. We're adding repairability scores to more product pages, and we're going to release our rating system soon so anyone can rate a product and share it on iFixit. We just can't take things apart fast enough!

irrationalNumber1 karma

I agree that this should never be an issue and shouldn't be something that we should have to fight for. Everything should be unlocked by default. But you guys are doing amazing things in this fight, so mad props to you.

On a somewhat related front, what do you think about the right to repair your car? We've see some legistation in the States to require auto manufacturers to allow third-party shops, and consumers, to access the computers in their cars and the diagnostic info that we've been long denied.

Where do you see this fight going? Obviously phones and tablets are a big issue right now and a serious war on general computing. But cars are a place where most people don't think of computers, much less the ability to access them.

kwiens3 karma

Great question.

The issue is that copyright law hands manufacturers a monopoly on the knowledge required to repair machinery. They then use that monopoly to put independent service shops out of business.

Apple is doing it with computers—I used to work at a Mac repair shop that was driven out of business by Apple—and auto companies are doing it with cars. I'm hearing stories from farmers that aren't able to fix their farm equipment anymore.

The problem is that software (intellectual property) is infecting hardware, and so the laws that have allowed us to modify and tinker our hardware for hundreds of years are woefully out of date. It won't be long before you can't buy any durable good that doesn't have some software involved.

We desperately need comprehensive right to repair legislation to guarantee our right to modify and repair our hardware. All of it, not just cars.

rupeshjoy8521 karma

Did you guys sell your tool kit to Best Buy, I saw a similar kit in geek squad to what I have at home?

kwiens2 karma

Not yet, although we'd love to sell tools through them. You can buy them from Amazon online as well as direct from us. Radio Shack is selling our tools at a few stores—if you don't see them in your local store, ask them to stock them!

PeekyChew1 karma

Are there any ways that manufacturers are making it easier to repair devices?

kwiens2 karma

I think Dell deserves more press than they've gotten for the XPS 10. It's clear that serviceability was a design priority throughout, and it's a great device. I have the trackpad + battery dock, and it's a great product.

They color coded the screws, used easy tabs to get into the case, and made the battery very easy to remove.

thedeadlybutter1 karma

You say we should have the right to modify everything we own. Now I might be taking this to literal, but does that include the ability to modify the software on the device? Not replace, but for example edit ios source code legally. If so, how does a system like this work? I'm sure apple would never want to make there platforms open source, same with Microsoft.

sinakh5 karma

Yeah, I do think you should be able to change the software on the device. That doesn't mean that you need to have access to the actual source code, though it's great when manufacturers do release that sort of thing.

For example, the Evasi0n iOS 6 jailbreak didn't require access to the iOS source code, there's other ways to make stuff like that happen.

stumpster-1 karma

As a fellow Calpoly CPE, how well would you say that Calpoly prepared you for the 'real world'?

(Also, will you ever go beer tasting with Collin?)

kwiens1 karma

Our work is pretty broad—we're taking apart hardware one day, hacking code the next, and writing op-eds for Wired the next. So it was very useful, but we've had to teach ourselves a fair amount along the way.