Gvmt Makes It Legal to JailBreak iPhones, Takes Other Steps to Limit Copyrights

By Andrew Moseman | July 27, 2010 1:26 pm

iphone-webEvery three years the Librarian of Congress reviews the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and James H. Billington’s review just expanded digital freedom with this year’s ruling of new exemptions to the copyright law.

Jailbreak that iPhone

First and foremost, Billington ruled that it’s not against the law to jailbreak a phone (the practice of working around the device’s security system and taking more direct control of it). The Electronic Frontier Foundation lobbied hard for this, particularly with the iPhone in mind. Because Apple keeps tight reins on the device—offering only AT&T phone service and acting as gatekeeper for what apps can be added—many people had taken to jailbreaking the phone.

About 4 million iPhone and iPod Touch units had been jailbroken as of last August, and were accessing apps from a sort of black-market storefront called Cydia, the marketplace’s founder told Wired. The store is a haven for many developers that Apple, the gatekeeper to its App Store, has ignored or turned away [Los Angeles Times].

The ruling may be a victory for free use, but that doesn’t mean you should go out and jailbreak that iPhone straight away. Apple, which has staunchly opposed the legalization of jailbreaking, says it leaves the phone open to attacks and the user without access to software upgrades. Oh, and by the way, Steve Jobs and company will still void your warranty if you do it.

Circumventing copyright protection isn’t a crime—sometimes

Billington also ruled that breaking the copyright protection on DVDs is not, by itself, illegal. It’s what you do with it that matters.

College professors and students, documentary filmmakers, and those making noncommercial videos, are now able to circumvent the copyright protection on DVDs in order to use short clips from those DVDs in new works “for the purpose of criticism or comment” [PC World].

Simultaneously, a federal appeals court ruled much to the same effect in a case involving MGE UPS Inc., which makes backup power devices. The company sued after hackers figured out how to bypass a dongle system MGE developed, but the court dismissed the case saying that the act of hacking the system is not itself a violation of the law.

In other words, just circumventing the technology isn’t enough to get into trouble with the DMCA. The circumvention must lead to some violation of copyright [Ars Technica].

Video games and e-books

The rules on e-books have been updated, too. Many of them have restrictions on the read-aloud option, which book publishers wanted so that your e-book couldn’t double as an audio book. The Library of Congress made it legal to work around that restriction, but only if no audio book exists for that title (no matter what it costs).

And hacking video games is now OK, too, so long as you’re doing it for “good faith testing” of possible security problems.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: The Intellectual Property Fight That Could Kill Millions
80beats: iPhone Worms Move from Harmless (Rickroll) to Nasty (Stolen Bank Info)
80beats: Steve Jobs: There’s No iPhone “Antenna-Gate,” But Here’s a Free Case
Bad Astronomy: Resolving the iPhone Resolution

Image: Apple

  • Jo Denny

    LOL, never realized it was “illegal” to jailbreak MY phone. The Iphone without a jailbreak is useless.


  • Brian Too

    This is actually progress. I’m pretty sure that DMCA tried to make everything related to decrypting protected content, illegal. That’s down to and including being in possession of code that do so, even if you never implemented it. Even if you never knew you were in possession of such capability!

    That’s why, to this day, and as far as I understand, many Linux distributions do not contain DVD player software decoders. Distributing such systems was technically illegal in the US and it was easier and more legally defensible for the Linux distros to make the users go online and download their own decoders.

    The whole thing smacks of the old videotaping lawsuit. In Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, the Supreme Court acted with great wisdom IMO. The ruling was that while copying could be used for ill, there were legitimate uses too and these legal activities meant that the technology could not be banned outright. While I do not support piracy, content producers are very good at proclaiming the sky is falling. They’ve been doing so for decades and have often failed to adapt to changing markets. Their marketing blunders are not the same thing as saying they were correct about copying technologies however.

    To play a DVD ought to be legal. It should not be illegal to own and use a codec designed to allow viewing. Furthermore, copying for the purpose of personal use (format shifting) also ought to be allowed. Copy it and sell the copy, that should be illegal. Heck, just copying and giving it away, that should be illegal too (it could deprive the copyright holder of a sale).

    The old Fair Use provisions have been pretty thoroughly abused by the media companies in recent years. It’s time to gain that ground back.

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  • http://www.myappsforipad.com Marcus Ripley

    Doesnt really matter if its legal or not to jailbreak. My biggest issue in all of this is why we have to jailbreak our devices to make them useful. Why cant Apple just open up IOS and make it easy for anyone to do what they like with their device?


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