Jailbreaking Exemption to Expire in 2012
Oh hey iPhone users. Have you ever wanted to customize the keyboard on your phone? Or have your iPhone time stamp each and every SMS message? Or even facetime with loved ones over 3G instead of Wi-Fi? All of this is available to you right now, but may not be for long.
The activities mentioned are currently legal because of a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that legitimizes the practice of removing the limitations imposed by Apple’s iOS operating system. Those activities described above can be achieved through an act known as jailbreaking. Jailbreaking is the method by which one can transform an Apple device running the iOS operating system – such as the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch – to allow third-party applications and software to be installed and used. Jailbreaking allows users to gain access to the operating system and download independent applications, or apps, which are not officially approved by Apple.
Why would one want to jailbreak their iPhone? The main reason is that some Apple users want to customize their iPhone or iPad and expand its features. A jailbreaker can modify their iPhone and change the wallpaper, icons, and other system graphics. Some advocates of jailbreaking boast that they can now circumvent restrictions of Apple’s iOS operating system, and can now use Flash on their iPhone or turn their phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot. Another reason for users to jailbreak their Apple devices is to access apps that are not found in the Apple App Store. Some believe Apple censors the content of its apps, citing Apple’s decision in 2010 to remove the WikiLeaks app from its App Store. These users may find jailbreaking to be an alternative to the censorship they believe Apple places on its apps.
But what goes up must come down and there is definitely a downside to jailbreaking. Apple has reported that customers who jailbreak their iPhones can experience device instability, unreliable voice and data service, disruption of services, and problems synchronizing data. Apple also warns of compromised security, shortened battery life, and inability to apply future software updates. Apple states clearly on its website “unauthorized modification of the iOS is a violation of the iPhone end-user license agreement and because of this, Apple may deny service for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that has installed any unauthorized software.”
Jailbreaking is a known exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act anti-circumvention provisions. The DMCA, signed into law in 1998, offers protection against circumvention of technological measures used by copyright owners to protect their work. However, every three years the Librarian of Congress may designate certain activities as exempt from the anti-circumvention provisions. In 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress recommended that computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute various software applications, when lawfully obtained, be placed under the list of exemptions under the DMCA. However, this exemption for jailbreaking will expire in 2012.
In the spring of 2012, the U.S. Copyright Office will hold hearings on the proposed DMCA exemptions. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit group that advocates for digital rights, is petitioning the Copyright Office to protect jailbreaking. The EFF is asking the Copyright Office to extend the 2010 exemption for jailbreaking. The EFF acknowledges that the DMCA is made to block copyright infringement but supports the jailbreaking exemption because it will allow Apple users more freedom to make their devices “more secure and more functional.”