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U.S. Copyright Office: Jailbreaking Your Smartphone is Legal

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The iPhone 4 by Jorge Quinteros

The iPhone 4 by Jorge Quinteros

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) does not bar jailbreaking your smartphone, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had asked for a clarification regarding the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA, which prohibited users from going around technical locks on phones to install and use third party applications not sanctioned by the manufacturer. The EFF focused its argument on Apple’s iPhone as it’s the best-selling smartphone in the United States.

The EFF contended the Apple’s prohibition on jailbreaking the phones had nothing to do with copyright worries — and everything to do with restricting competition, innovation, and consumer choice. The U.S. Copyright Office agreed that copyright was not at stake with jailbreaking, finding that “while a copyright owner might try to restrict the programs that can be run on a particular operating system, copyright law is not the vehicle for imposition of such restrictions.”

The EFF also maintained that jailbreaking was simply a fair use of the software purchased by the consumer, and, again, regulators agreed that “the activity of an iPhone owner who modifies his or her iPhone’s firmware/operating system in order to make it interoperable with an application that Apple has not approved, but that the iPhone owner wishes to run on the iPhone, fits comfortably within the four corners of fair use.”

It is important to note, however, that jailbreaking your iPhone could still void the warranty.

“Apple’s goal has always been to ensure that our customers have a great experience with their iPhone and we know that jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience,” said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Harrison. “As we’ve said before, the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones, as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably.”

Previous coverage of this story at LegalZoom:

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July 27th, 2010 at 10:17 am