Every 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.
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