The U.S. Copyright Office has ruled that modifying an Apple iPhone so that it can run third-party apps not approved by Apple is legal, and not a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Apple has maintained that jailbreaking one of its smartphones requires the user to modify software Apple has a copyright on, and therefore this action violates the DMCA.
Over a year ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- a consumer advocacy group -- asked the Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office to rule that jailbreaking isn't against the rules of the DMCA.
The ruling is completely in the EFF's favor, and says there is "no basis for copyright law to assist Apple in protecting its restrictive business model."
The language of the Copyright Office's ruling is general, and doesn't single out the iPhone App Store. Although Apple has the best known policy of blocking unapproved apps, others have sought to follow suit. Microsoft, for example, has announced that the only way to install applications onto smartphones running Windows Phone 7 will be through an official software store run by Microsoft.
Unlocking Is Legal, Too
The Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office have also ruled that the DMCA allows users to unlock their phones so that they can be used on any wireless carrier's network.
Phones purchased from carriers are often locked to that company's wireless network. However, many customers remove this lock so that they can use their device on other networks.
The Copyright Office says that the following are not a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:
(2) Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, 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.
(3) Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.
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