CHARLOTTE, NC- If you're caught unlocking your cell phone, you could face a big fine and even jail time.
The money-saving shortcut is a way to switch networks without buying a new phone. Many Charlotte cell phone businesses still offer it on their web sites - unlocking phones so customers aren't stuck with their original service provider.
"They just can't afford to replace the phone itself because phones are so high-priced nowadays," said Michael Armstrong with uBreakiFix Smartphone Repair.
Now, unlocking is no longer an option.
The law's been around for 15 years. Last year, the Library of Congress ruled unlocking a phone without the carriers permission violates copyright law.The ruling took effect Saturday.
If your phone is already unlocked, you're grandfathered in and won't face any legal problems. But if you try to resell the phone to someone else, there are big penalties.
If you're caught and prosecuted you could face civil penalties up to $2,500. For businesses or individuals looking to make money off unlocking, the fine could be up to $500,000 plus jail time.
Armstrong says there are still cheaper alternatives.
"A lot of people sell used unlocked phones that are pre-unlocked from the factory but just used at a cheaper price. On EBAY, you can probably find some for 200 dollars" said Armstrong.
But make sure its unlocked by the factory and not someone else.
There's an online petition calling for the librarian of congress to rescind the decision.
“We The People” Petition”