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DMCA Updated: iPhone Jailbreaking Legal and Protected

DMCA Updated: iPhone Jailbreaking Legal and Protected

iPhone Users Can now Jailbreak their iPhones Legally In a review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has updated the language of the law to allow “jailbreaking” of smartphones, such as the iPhone. Jailbreaking refers to the practice of bypassing Apple’s controls in order to install unapproved software on the iPhone. A similar practice, called “rooting,” achieves the same goal for Android smartphones. According to the new language, any efforts that a cell phone manufacturer might take to bar users from installing legally obtained software on their phones violates copyright law. Specifically, the paragraph in question says:
Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.
The significance of this new stance on jailbreaking, however, appears to be more symbolic of a victory for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (the organization that requested the review of the DMCA wording to address jailbreaking) and their ilk. While Apple cannot sue users for jailbreaking their iPhones (which has not happened to date), Apple is by no means required by law to facilitate the practice. Up until now, Apple’s efforts to prevent the installation of unauthorized software on iPhones has been a matter of posing logistical inconveniences for jailbreakers. Each system software update released for the iPhone by Apple has, in essence, plugged the holes exploited by jailbreakers that allowed them to install third-party software which, in the eyes of copyright law, is fair game. Furthermore, Apple has stated that the installation of any unauthorized software would void the warranty, much in the same way physically opening a computer or digital camera and tinkering with its innards would exempt you from any free servicing on the company’s dollar.
There are other parts of the DMCA that continue to work against the favor of the jailbreaking community. The DMCA states that “no person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that… is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” Basically, while the portion of the Act cited above states that Apple cannot pursue legal action against users for using jailbreaking software, they could possibly sue the developers and distributors of such software.
For now, and for the foreseeable future, it seems that the App Store will remain the most accessible way for iPhone users to download applications and software for their handsets. But the government’s apparent support of jailbreaking may set the tone for future clashes between pioneering smartphone users and manufacturers.
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