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'Jailbreaking' Phones Granted DMCA Exemption

Have you ever had the urge to jailbreak your phone? Perhaps millions have done it. But Apple has been contending that it is illegal.

So what’s wrong with jailbreaking your phone? Nothing, ruled the U.S. Librarian of Congress on Monday. Jailbreaking is the practice of changing the software on smartphones, to allow outside applications to function on the phone. The Library of Congress found that jailbreakers should be exempted from prosecution under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Every three years, The Library of Congress determines if there are any types of works that can be exempt from certain parts of copyright law.

Acording to James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, jailbreaking is not copyright infringement "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."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, successfully argued that users should be permitted to install legally gained outside software for personal use. Apple, maker of the top selling iPhone, and the iTunes store, argued against the exemption, unsuccessfully contending that an exemption would increase piracy and create undue financial hardship for the company. Apple argued that its support department already receives "literally millions of reported instances of problems flowing from jailbroken phones.”

"The Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress have taken three important steps today to mitigate some of the harms caused by the DMCA," Jennifer Granick, EFF's civil-liberties director, said, reported CNET.com. "We are thrilled to have helped free jailbreakers, unlockers, and vidders from this law's overbroad reach."

Billington also announced other situations where DMCA exemptons apply and it is legal to bypass copy protection without breaking copyright laws, including:

  • Copying short clips from DVDs for use in education or noncommercial videos.
  • Unlocking firmware or software to run on another wireless carrier.
  • Breaking protection on video games when required to test for, investigate or correct security issues.
  • When required do to obsolete software security dongle.
  • In limited situations when e-books do not allow read aloud functions.

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