Feds OK Smartphone Jailbreaking, Unlocking

The US Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress changed the exemptions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act on Monday to allow for jailbreaking and unlocking smartphones. The rule change means companies like Apple can’t use copyright rules to block customers from installing and running unapproved third party apps on their smartphones.

“When one jailbreaks a smartphone in order to make the operating system on that phone interoperable with an independently created application that has not been approved by the maker of the smartphone or the maker of its operating system, the modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses,” the Copyright Office stated.

“It’s gratifying that the Copyright Office acknowledges this right and agrees that the anticircumvention laws should not interfere with interoperability,” commented Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney, Corynne McSherry.

Apple is often held up as an example of limiting the software users can install on their smartphones because it tied iPhone app installation to its own App Store. Apps that don’t pass Apple’s screening process won’t get approved, and can’t be distributed to iPhone and iPod touch users without first jailbreaking the device.

Along with its ruling that jailbreaking is fair use, the Copyright Office also renewed its earlier ruling that allows consumers to unlock their cellphones for use on the carrier network of their choice instead of staying locked to a single service provider.

While the rulings mean companies can’t cite copyright regulations as a reason to stop customers from installing unapproved apps on their smartphones, or from unlocking their devices, it doesn’t prohibit companies from limiting those actions through terms of service agreements.

[Thanks to AP for the heads up]