Jailbreaking Phones Approved By Copyright Office
October 28, 2012

US Copyright Office Approves Jailbreaking Phones, But Not Tablets

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The latest set of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which go into effect today, make it legal to jailbreak smartphones, but not tablet computers, the US Copyright Office has declared.

According to Sam Byfordon of The Verge, the Copyright Office agreed to permit the unlocking of phones so that they would work on any wireless carrier, but declined to extend the same protection to devices such as the iPad and the Galaxy Tab.

The reason for that decision, Byfordon said, is because that the difficulty in categorizing tablets mean that issuing "a blanket exemption" would mean that it could "theoretically apply to e-readers and portable game consoles."

Current smartphones, however, can still be unlocked, but only those that are purchased before January 2013. After that, individuals will need to obtain permission from their carriers in order to legally jailbreak any phone, because the Federal Register ruled that software is not owned by a user who purchases it, only licensed to them.

Furthermore, according to Slashgear's Brittany Hillen, this year's list of exemptions "removes the previously instituted permission to unlock a phone for use with a new carrier. This change makes it so that only phones originally 'acquired from the operator of a wireless telecommunications network or retailer no later than ninety days after the effective date of this exemption' can be unlocked."

These DCMA exemptions will remain in effect until the next copyright review, in three years' time.

"If you bought your gadget, you own it, and you should be able to install whatever software you please without facing potential legal threats," Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) senior staff attorney Marcia Hofmann said in a statement, according to Iain Thomson of The Register. "We're pleased the Copyright Office renewed our smartphone jailbreaking exemption request, but we're disappointed that it couldn't see that consumers deserve the same rights for all the gadgets they own."

The Copyright Office also denied requests to legalize the creation of backup DVD copies for personal use, and also refused to permit the modification of home video game consoles, Hillen said. They ruled that copying store-bought DVDs for use on other devices was a violation of fair use laws, although "short portions" of the copyrighted work could be copied and used for educational and non-commercial purposes, as well as in documentaries.

She added that the Register ruled against an EFF request that would have allowed for "the circumvention of access protection" on game systems. Their ruling stated that fair use for those consoles were different than those applying to smartphones, because video games are "far more difficult and complex to produce" than mobile apps, the Slashgear reporter explained.

"One expansion of rights under the Register's ruling applies to getting around ebook DRM for the purpose of accessing assistive technologies such as text-to-speech," Byfordon said. "Users were already allowed to do this, but only if there wasn't a DRM-free version of the book in question available on the market. Due to what the Register describes as 'fragmentation within the industry and differing technical standards and accessibility capabilities across platforms,' this restriction has now been removed."

"It's a welcome piece of common sense in the new rulings, which otherwise frequently highlight how copyright law has little relation to the way people use technology today," he added.