My 8/08/10 Missoulian column
Close on the heels of the announcement that the iPhone will officially arrive in Montana sometime next year comes a ruling on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that effects all mobile devices such as the iPhone.
The DMCA (a federal law enacted in 1998) makes illegal technology or devices that circumvent the digital rights management “locks” on copyrighted works in digital form, such as movies, music and, in the case of mobile devices, the software they use.
The recent ruling is a periodic update (which can happen every three years) to the DMCA made by the U.S. Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress.
The ruling applies to iPhones because Apple limits direct access to its software by software locks. Apple also claims copyright on its software by the end user license agreement that iPhone buyers agree to.
“Jailbreaking” an iPhone entails using a free software utility to open up an iPhone so it can be used with other phone carriers and with software not officially sanctioned by Apple. Apple has always maintained that “jailbreaking” an iPhone was against the EULA subject to prosecution and even lawsuits by Apple.
Jailbreaking a iPhone is one of the ways to currently use an iPhone in Montana (until they arrive officially next year), because a jailbroken iPhone could be used on non-AT&T networks. (The other way to a Montana iPhone is getting get a contract with AT&T from another state.) And jailbreaking is a method used around the world: some estimates point to millions of jailbroken iPhones in use.
But now, the Copyright Office states jailbreaking mobile devices like the iPhone isn’t illegal. That’s because the amount of software that is changed in order to jailbreak an iPhone is a tiny percentage in comparison to the size of the software system as a whole, and so modifying such a small amount of software is considered to be fair use See: http://www.copyright.gov/1201/
Apple has always maintained they could sue an iPhone user for jailbreaking their iPhone, but it has never happened. And now there is even less of a chance, because the law is on the side of the iPhone owner. There’s even a new website that will jailbreak an iPhone for you: www.jailbreakme.com
There are some limits to the new DMCA ruling. What does this ruling mean for other aspects of high-tech world? More next week.
This week in Mac Q & A: Add Montana Public Radio to iTunes