iPhone 'Jailbreaking' and Unofficial Apps Now Legal

Dennis Faas's picture

A change to copyright laws mean cellphone owners can now legally "jailbreak" their phones. Jailbreaking, as it is often referred to, is the practice which involves modifying a device (such as an iPhone) to run any software, regardless of manufacturer restrictions.

The decision affects the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a legislation that has made it illegal to bypass any electronic restrictions designed to protect copyright. The act was most prominently cited in a case involving software which allowed users to copy digitally protected DVDs.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, is an online rights campaign group that successfully lobbied the US Copyright Office's Librarian of Congress to grant an exception to the act to legitimize jailbreaking.

Not All Apps Become Apple Apps

The act of jailbreaking a phone is most often associated with the iPhone, as Apple keeps tight control over which applications users can download and install by restricting them to the official App Store. That's proven controversial because Apple's vetting process means that apps can be accused of being arbitrary and thus disallowed from the App Store. In particular, many applications involving adult content have been rejected, even though adult web sites can be viewed on an iPhone via Apple's own Safari browser.

The Copyright Office has now confirmed that it is not a breach of copyright to modify mobile hardware when doing so is for the purpose of making it work with other software.

It's unlikely the ruling will lead to an increase in the number of people who jailbreak phones. However, it does mean that manufacturers of applications which only run on a jailbroken iPhone can be certain their business is based on a legal activity. (Source: wsj.com)

DVD Copying OK For Clips

Two other requests from the EFF received Copyright Office approval. It's now legal to use short excerpts from commercial DVDs in online videos, as long as that use is for criticism or comment. For example, it would not be a breach of copyright to include brief clips when producing a countdown of your 10 favorite movies. (Source: eff.org)

The Copyright Office also agreed to renew a previous ruling that it is legitimate to unlock a cellphone: that is, to modify it to run on a network other than the one for which it was originally set up.

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