Many of the most vocal critics of jailbreaking — a group which includes Apple itself — have been quick in the past to cite the fact that hacking your smartphone is a violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and thus illegal.
It wasn’t a bad argument, all things considered, but if you’re used to relying on it, you’re going to have to ditch it: the Copyright Office has just issued a new set of exemptions to the DMCA, making jailbreaking and unlocking your iPhone officially legal.
The exemptions were pushed through mostly thanks to a campaign launched by the Electronics Frontier Foundation.
Here are the two exemptions as they specifically apply to jailbreakers, quoted from the official record:
The Librarian of Congress has announced the classes of works subject to the exemption from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. Persons making noninfringing uses of the following six classes of works will not be subject to the prohibition against circumventing access controls (17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)) until the conclusion of the next rulemaking…
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….
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.
In other words, it is now okay to jailbreak your iPhone to run legally acquired software (for example, through Cydia) and to unlock your iPhone to run on another network. The Dev Team is no longer a group of outlaws, even technically.
This is a huge win for the EFF and jailbreakers. You can find the full ruling here.
This is from the DevTeam:
Fantastic news today from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). After a lot of hard work and mountains of paperwork, jailbreaking your iPhone is now explicitly a permitted fair use under the DMCA!
The first of EFF’s three successful requests clarifies the legality of cell phone “jailbreaking” — software modifications that liberate iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. More than a million iPhone owners are said to have “jailbroken” their handsets in order to change wireless providers or use applications obtained from sources other than Apple’s own iTunes “App Store,” and many more have expressed a desire to do so. But the threat of DMCA liability had previously endangered these customers and alternate applications stores.
In its reasoning in favor of EFF’s jailbreaking exemption, the Copyright Office rejected Apple’s claim that copyright law prevents people from installing unapproved programs on iPhones: “When one jailbreaks a smartphone in order to make the operating system on that phone interoperable with an independently created application that has not been approved by the maker of the smartphone or the maker of its operating system, the modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses.”
The EFF also successfully renewed the existing DMCA exception for carrier unlocking. More on the ruling by the Library of Congress is here and here (and many other places, since this is huge news!). The full ruling is here, and EFF’s history with this case is here (EFF’s servers are understandably getting hammered today!).
This doesn’t mean that Apple will stop their technical attempts to thwart jailbreaking, it just means that it’s now unambiguously legal under the DMCA for you the end user to both jailbreak and unlock.
Great job, EFF!