Jailbreaking Your iPhone Remains Legal In US; But Illegal To Jailbreak Your iPad And Unlock Your iPhone Under DMCA

BY Jason

Published 26 Oct 2012


Back in 2010, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had won two critical exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made it legal for users to jailbreak and unlock their iPhone.

It didn’t change things much for iPhone users as the cat and mouse game between Apple and the iPhone hacking community has continued, but from a legal point of view they could jailbreak their iPhone without fear of copyright infringement penalties.

However, the exemption needed to be renewed again this year, otherwise it would expire, which could make jailbreaking your iPhone illegal. Since the exemption was only for smartphones, EFF also wanted to address it by expanding the exemption to also cover tablets.

We have some good news and not so good news on that front. The Librarian of Congress, which has the power to grant exceptions has included jailbreaking of smartphones in the list of exceptions until 2015.

The new rules allow circumvention of “computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute lawfully obtained software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications with computer programs on the telephone handset.” In other words, jailbreaking is permitted for “telephone handsets.”

Unfortunately though, they haven’t expanded the exemption to also cover tablets as the Librarian “found significant merit to the opposition’s concerns that this aspect of the proposed class was broad and ill-defined, as a wide range of devices might be considered ‘tablets,’ notwithstanding the significant distinctions among them in terms of the way they operate, their intended purposes, and the nature of the applications they can accommodate. For example, an e-book reading device might be considered a ‘tablet,’ as might a handheld video game device or a laptop computer.”

In 2006 and 2010, the Librarian of Congress had included unlocking mobile phones in the list, which allowed users to unlock their mobile phones so that they can use it with any other carrier. However, this year, the Congress has excluded it from the list.

The Register concluded after a review of the statutory factors that an exemption to the prohibition on circumvention of mobile phone computer programs to permit users to unlock “legacy” phones is both warranted and unlikely to harm the market for such programs. At the same time, in light of carriers’ current unlocking policies and the ready availability of new unlocked phones in the marketplace, the record did not support an exemption for newly purchased phones. Looking to precedents in copyright law, the Register recommended that the class designated by the Librarian include a 90-day transitional period to allow unlocking by those who may acquire phones shortly after the new exemption goes into effect.

It essentially means that it is no longer legal to unlock your mobile phone without carrier’s permission. If you’re interested, you can read the entire document at this link.

While it is good to see the exemption for jailbreaking iPhones extended, we doubt this will stop people from jailbreaking their iPad and unlocking their iPhones. Apple has always maintained that unauthorized modification of the iOS is a violation of the iPhone end-user license agreement and because of this, Apple can deny service for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that has installed any unauthorized software.

We would love to hear your thoughts, so please drop us a line in the comments.

[via ArsTechnia]