If legal repercussions have stopped you from unleashing the power of your iPhone, then this week must be your lucky week; as the Library of Congress has approved the jailbreak of your iPhone, much to Apple’s dismay.
According to the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (LOC), jailbreaking a smartphone—in this case Apple’s iPhone—is actually legal under the provisions of the Digital Media Copyright’s Act (DMCA). The decision was taken by the Librarian of Congress, James Billington. His decision was largely based on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) proposal that the LOC study the popular practice of jailbreaking iPhones and other smartphones. The EFF further argued that jailbreaking does not constitute infringement in any form because various reasons.
In its argument, the EFF notes that the use of any jailbreaking technique does not actually make changes to the each program that makes up the iPhone firmware. Instead jailbreaking just brings additional software and components to the platform. These additions, according to EFF, are much like adding a printer driver to an operating system, clearly a “modification” to the OS but not copyright infringement in any case.
The EFF also asserted that jailbreaking techniques are within the scope of an iPhone owner’s rights. After all, the iPhone owner is also the firmware owner and it falls within the rights the owner to make the best the copies of their firmware, adjust it to their needs by adding new capabilities to it. Of course, this is within the context that the user is not doing anything that might infringe the rights of the owner of the firmware copyright.
According to the EFF jailbreaking is actually a noncommercial endeavor that is limited for private use and still uses the original firmware to operate the phone. It does not harm the marketing of the firmware in any way.
Apple argues that by jailbreaking the iPhone, users violate the terms and conditions that were agreed on purchase of the iPhone. However the LOC, still does not make it clear whether the contracts grant the users ownership of the firmware or just a licensed copy of the firmware. Apple still has copyright for the computer programs inside the iPhone; the device itself is owned by the user upon purchase. Due to these reasons the lines of ownership gets blurred, and since the courts have to decide on that, Billington expressed that it is fair to jailbrake an iPhone so long as it’s for non-commercial use. He also said that jailbreaking of iPhones is “innocuous at worst and beneficial at best.”
Apple reiterates the dangers of jailbreaking your iPhone. Aside from the fact that your warranty becomes void, your iPhone and the programs in it may also become unstable bring due to risks related to security and data transfers. In the worst case scenario the battery life of your iPhone will severely reduce. Apple also warned that jailbroken phones might not get any updates at all.
Every three years the Copyright Office, under the Library of congress reviews emerging technologies that maybe exempted from the DMCA ban. There were nineteen recommendations for these technologies received by the Copyright office. Billington exempted jailbreaking the iPhone/smartphone along with five other technologies. These included: snippets from DVDs when used to garner comments or criticisms, computer programs and telephone handsets to access wireless networks, video games on personal computers, and computer programs on dongles.