Library of Congress: Jailbreaking iPhone Not a Copyright Issue


Today I learned that the Librarian of Congress is required every three years to clarify requirements of the (Digital Millenium Act) (primarily, I gather, to take into account changes in technology).

The latest update, issued today, included a ruling that copyright cannot be used to prevent purchasers of smartphones, including iPhones, from jailbreaking them so they can install applications not approved by the manufacturer. The Bloomberg report indicates the reasoning for this is that jailbreaking for this purpose is not to duplicate or steal anything, but to promote interoperability. From the Bloomberg report:

Owners of Inc.’s can unlock the device in order to use applications not authorized by the company, the U.S. Library of Congress said.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington added the practice, described in the ruling as “jailbreaking,” to a list of actions that don’t violate copyright protections. The decision affecting iPhones and other smartphones was posted today on the agency’s website as part of a periodic review.

Jailbreaking a phone may still be considered to violate the terms of a warranty.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation, who petitioned for the issue to be considered, quotes from the ruling at its website (emphasis added):

“When one jailbreaks a 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 or the maker of its operating system, the modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses.”

Fair use” is strong language in the copyright biz.

You can see the full ruling here (PDF).

Apple has not yet issued a statement on the ruling. According to Bloomberg, in comments period during the comments period before the ruling, Apple claimed that

“arguments really amount to an attack on Apple’s particular business choices” for the iPhone and the company’s iPhone App Store.

Call me jaded if you will, but I suspect that maintaining the position of the iPhone App Store as the sole source for iPhone apps has a lot to do with Apple’s position on this pleading.

Here is a PDF of the U. S. Copyright Office’s summary of the DMCA.


Just for grins and giggles, I checked the license and warranty of T-Mobile G1. There is no prohibition against software from sources other than the Android Marketplace, but, if third-party software damages the phone, I’m on my own. The copyright provisions apply specifically and expressly to HTC software supplied with the phone (HTC manufactures the G1).

Here’s a link to the warranty (PDF).

Frankly, that sounds reasonable to me.

The device comes set to accept software only from the Android Marketplace, but the settings contain a toggle to allow software from other sources.

I could not find a reference to “jailbreaking,” but I am sure my carrier wouldn’t like it and I paid too much for this thing to take that chance. If someone wants to send me one, I’ll happily it.

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