Is it legal to copy a fob?
We get this question a lot. Many people assume that, because a fob is electronic and doesn’t look like a key, copying a fob is somehow different to copying a key.
But really, if you think about it, a fob is a key in every sense of the word. It opens a door, therefore it’s a key.
And so the answer to the above question is pretty much a resounding yes.
Just like your local key-cutter will copy your keys for you, no questions asked, we can copy your fobs, too.
Are there any exceptions?
Of course, there will always be exceptions.
Many regular keys are copy-protected. Copy-protection often (but not always) makes it illegal to make copies of the key unless certain criteria are fulfilled.
While I don’t know of any fobs being illegal to duplicate, I am aware of many forms of copy-protection.
Many landlords deliberately install copy-protected systems to their properties as a way to prevent copies being made, even if it’s not illegal. Haringey Council, for example, has over the last three-or-so years installed tonnes of light-grey PAC fobs to its estates, which, unlike the black PAC fobs, are fully copy-protected, and no machine on the market can clone them. (Yet…?)
What happens if my fob is copy-protected? Is there no hope?
‘Copy-protected’ doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get a new fob. It just means that you can’t copy the fob.
If your fob is copy-protected, then you’re fully at the mercy of the building manager or building’s landlord. They won’t be able to copy your fob, but they’ll be able to add a totally new fob to the system.*
The catch is that many landlords (a) don’t want to provide new fobs; (b) will charge you a fortune for new fobs (the average I’ve heard is upwards of £80 each, ranging to £250!); or (c) won’t know how to program new fobs. None of these scenarios is good if you have only one fob and lots of dependents…
* The distinction between copying and programming a brand new fob is important, if boring. A copy of a fob is exactly identical to your existing fob. This means that, were your landlord to de-program your original fob from the system, all copies of that fob would cease to work, too. A newly programmed fob is a distinct fob on the system.
To make a copy, you need special machinery that can de-crypt and copy the data from one fob to the next. If a fob is copy-proteced, most likely a machine doesn’t exist that can copy them. To add a new fob to the system, you usually just need so-called ‘enrolment cards’ for the system.