Great news for all you smartphone modders feeling a little anxious about the legal ramifications of jailbreaking your iPhone or rooting your Android phone – the US has just added exceptions to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) that make it completely legal to hack your smartphone to your heart’s content. Just this Monday morning, the Library of Congress added exemptions to the DMCA, allowing smartphone users to circumvent protection systems intended to keep copyrighted material locked down from copying or modification. The move is considered a huge step forward for the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).
Here’s the deal. Every three years, the Library of Congress is tasked with the responsibility to cull public commentary on the DMCA. Those comments are weighed against fair use and copyright infringement considerations. The end goal of this process is to identify weaknesses in the DMCA and add exceptions that bring the 1998 regulation up to speed with the current state of technology. The Library taps the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights to examine whether or not a potential exemption to the DMCA will “diminish the ability of individuals to use copyrighted works in ways that are not infringing.” Basically, the Librarian and the Register (aside from sounding like “B” movie titles) decide whether or not an exemption should be added to the books.
Thankfully, the latest review of the DMCA has resulted in good news for the smartphone hacking, er, “development,” community. The exemptions allow people to bypass DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection schemes in mobile phones for the purpose of installing and using legally begotten applications/software and connecting to any compatible wireless carrier they might choose. There are also exemptions allowing DRM circumventions for DVDs and eBooks, but we’re not going to get into that here.
These are the pertinent sections of the new federal DMCA exemption rulings:
(2) 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.
(3) Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.
Without having filtered our understanding of the above legalese through a barrister of the law, the wording in the exemption ruling seems to be a solid win for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF has been fighting the likes of Apple over the legality of users jailbreaking their iPhones to use their smartphones as they see fit. Apple has long argued that any jailbreak exemption to the DMCA “…will destroy the technological protection of Apple’s key copyrighted computer programs in the iPhone™ device itself and of copyrighted content owned by Apple that plays on the iPhone, resulting in copyright infringement…” Today, the EFF has seen their jailbreak initiative pay off in droves.
What does all this mean for you, the end user of iPhones and Android phones? Well, it means that the next time you decide to jailbreak or root your device, you won’t have to worry about the Feds or Apple or Google suing you for infringing on their copyright. As long as you’re not distributing copyrighted code or using pirated software, you’re now free to jailbreak until the cows come home. The ruling doesn’t force Apple (or Google, or any Android smartphone maker) to stop using software protection systems to prevent unauthorized access to their respective mobile operating system. It also doesn’t force them to offer to unlock your phone for you. But, should you choose to take matters into your own hands, they really can’t stop you.
Now, if only we had a jailbreak for the iPhone 4…
If you want to do some heavier reading on this issue, download the full DCMA ruling here.
Read more on the backstory between Apple and their fight against the EFF to keep jailbreaking illegal here.