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Copyright Office says users may jailbreak their iPhones

This week, the US Copyright Office stated that “jailbreaking,” or reprogramming a smart phone so that it will run third-party software, is fair use, and remains legal under the DMCA. Under the revisions to the 1976 Copyright Act, the Copyright Librarian is charged with researching new technologies and making a report to Congress every three years as to whether the general uses of those technologies are legal under existing Copyright Law.

While Apple has claimed that jailbreaking violates the terms of the contracts that users sign and accept when they buy the phones or use the Apple iStore, the Copyright Office stated that users have the right to run whatever software they desire on their own devices.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was one of the proponents of the ruling, stating that copyright law is not the right mechanism to control what users can or cannot do with their personal electronic communication devices.

What does this mean for video games? It means that social media and casual games no longer have to go through the App Store in order to be usable on the iPhone or iPad, and that developers may not need to make their games iPhone compatible, merely web browser enabled. Furthermore, it means that more online and interactive space is going to be governed by contract law and principles, and less by the power of the copyright owner to control their copyright in the software and interface.

Author’s Note: Something the comments made me consider, is that I did not emphasize enough that jailbreaking an iPhone will still violate the terms of service and void the warranty, meaning Apple can still brick the affected phones. The Copyright Office’s ruling states merely that jailbreaking a smart phone is not an unlawful circumvention of technological protection as defined under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §1201).

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2 Responses

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  1. sarterus says

    Very important ruling from the copyright office. We may see new gaming optimized OS's from third parties now for the iPhone.

  2. amarra says

    Exactly! However, I don't know that I made it clear enough that violating the terms of service would still violate the warranty of the phone, and subject users to the breach of contract provisions of the iPhone agreement. The ruling just means that jailbreaking the phone is not considered a “circumvention of technological protections” under the DMCA.