Now that mobile technology has become such a huge part of our lives, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has to be ammended to reflect the changing technologies. Here's a look at what has changed, what has stayed the same, and what we could be facing now that Congress has ruled that jailbreaking is a totally legal activity.
This past Monday, the internet, newspapers and television were all buzzing with the news that jailbreaking your iPhone was no longer a practice frowned upon by the law. The Library of Congress, which holds sway over the U.S. Copyright Office, announced that there would be changes to the legislation governing how consumers may employ the digital software and hardware they own. Those exemptions, now in effect, have a significant impact on how and where a number of the technologies we see everyday are used, including our trusty iPhones.
The media frenzy--and indeed, the reasons why you are now able to jailbreak your iPhone (or any mobile phone for that matter)--are due to changes made to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): a piece of legislation that governs the ways you're allowed to utilize a lot of the technologies you take for granted every day.
For those not familiar with the DMCA, it was designed to work in conjunction with the Copyright Act of 1976, protecting the companies that sell digital wares from having their goods copied or modified in an unauthorized manner. Up until this week, there were few exceptions to the DMCA. For example, unless you were an academic sort looking to educate your students with a few well-chosen film clips, making a copy of a copyrighted video was illegal. Jailbreaking your iPhone? Verboten! Making a mix-tape of tunes from your physical or digital library for that pretty music columnist who stopped by your record store last week? Evil!
Back then, some forward-thinking government-type also caught on to the fact that technology advances faster than it was becoming possible to account for. With technology breakthroughs being introduced daily, the DMCA would need to evolve over time. As a result, it was decided that the content of the DMCA should be given a good going over once every three years. Typically, the fine print introduced or altered in the three-year rotation has served the interests of copyright holders who introduced products into the marketplace that hadn’t been considered for protection during the last time the DMCA was tinkered with.
This week, however, things ran astray of the status quo.
Thanks to the efforts of the Electronic Frontier Foundation--an organization dedicated to the defense of the digital rights of Americans--consumers have gained some pretty significant elbow room in how and where they can legally use a number of increasingly ubiquitous hardware and software technologies. The changes come as a result of the EFF’s tireless lobbying, which resulted in six exemptions to the Act. Effective immediately, you can now legally crack computer/console game DRM for the purpose of "research and investigation," bypass software security that requires a hardware component that is either broken or is no longer obtainable, and--in a huge victory for the visually-impaired--break the DRM on encrypted eBooks so that the content can be read aloud, regardless of whether or not the eBook’s copyright refuses the user permission to do so.
That’s only half of the exceptions. What about the other three? Well, we were saving the best for last.
First, all of those DVDs you own? Go ahead and rip ‘em, provided the copies don’t end up making you any cash or find their way into the hands of anyone else. Second, you now have the right to jailbreak a mobile phone and trot it over to any network you want. Last and certainly not least, it’s also game-on for jailbreaking your phone--no matter the make--in order to run any software you darn well please.
No doubt you can imagine that AT&T and Apple, along with other companies with significant cellular interests, weren’t thrilled about the last two points. With so many iPhone users complaining about AT&T’s service, the ability to port your handset to another network could see the cellular provider bleeding money. Apple, too, could lose a fair chunk of coin should a larger number of consumers opt to stray outside of the walled garden of the iTunes App Store in favor of snagging software from another vendor now that it’s a legal option to do so.
Mac|Life contacted AT&T and Apple, and, for the sake of adding a little spice to the conversation, Google and Microsoft, for their view on the changes to the DMCA. At the time that this story was filed, none of the companies have provided a response. However, Apple did voice their displeasure over the ruling in a missive sent to the U.S. Copyright Office:
“Apple is opposed to the proposed… exemption… Congress did not envision the DMCA exemption process as a forum for economic restructuring of business models. Instead, Congress set up a focused and limited inquiry – whether prohibiting circumvention of access controls will in specific instances have a substantial adverse effect on non-infringing uses of particular classes of works.”
Add to this the fact that Apple has stated that in spite of the new exemptions, jailbreaking will still void the warranties of an iPhone or iPod touch, and it becomes pretty clear that Apple has no plans to alter their current course insofar as their insular polices surrounding the App Store or their mobile hardware is concerned.
What do those working to enable jailbreaks on Apple devices think of all of this? If you ask Jay Freeman (Saurik) of the iPhone Dev Team, he’d tell you that not much will change for them.
“I think it’s definitely business as usual,” said Freeman. “People now seem to think that Apple’s now forced to do things. The only thing Apple would be forced to do now that they weren’t before is not sue us over [jailbreaking]. Back when they could have, they never sent me a lawsuit. I’ve never received any communication from Apple saying that anything I’ve done is illegal.” Freeman commented that the biggest change he'd noticed in the days since the Library of Congress’ ruling was the amount of press they were getting. “Earlier today, CNN was actually discussing jailbreaking. They had a jailbroken iPhone on set, and I think one of the guys mentioned that they had a jailbroken iPhone and they didn’t feel ashamed anymore. That means a lot of people are going to get a nice happy emotion about this. Maybe they hadn’t even heard of jailbreaking before, and now they know what it does.”
With so little time having past since the six exemptions were made, it’s difficult to forecast the alterations, if any, that Apple, AT&T and their contemporaries may make to their business practices or technology. Will Apple continue to update iOS with safeguards against jailbreaking? Most likely. Will jailbreaking become more commonplace as it gains more press? Perhaps. What is certain is that change always brings innovation, and that’s a great thing for both consumers and the companies who provide the products and services we love.