The U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress are due to rule any day on whether iPhone jailbreaking should be exempted from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Here's what's going on.
Eighteen months ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked regulators to add jailbreaking to a list of explicit exemptions to the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions. Jailbreaking is hacking the phone's OS to allow consumers to run any app on the phone they choose, including applications not authorised by Apple. At the last review thee years ago, regulators approved six exemptions, including the ability to unlock your phone to change carriers.
At stake for Apple is the very closed business model the company has enjoyed since 2007, when the iPhone debuted. Apple says its unlawful to jailbreak, (.pdf) but has not taken legal action against the millions who have jailbroken their phones and used the underground app store Cydia. Apple maintains that its closed marketplace is what made the success of the iPhone possible, and sold more than three billion of apps.
The EFF's Fred von Lohmann said legitmising jailbreaking would create an app gold rush, and bring the unauthorised app market to the mainstream.
What's this all about?
Every three years, regulators entertain proposed exemptions to the DMCA, passed in 1998. The act forbids circumventing encryption technology to copy or modify copyrighted works - in this instance, Apple says the DMCA protects the encryption built into the bootloader that starts up the iPhone OS operating system.
Apple declined to be interviewed for this story. In an April security bulletin, it said "Unauthorized modification of iPhone OS has been a major source of instability, disruption of services, and other issues."
In the video at the top, von Lohmann explains why EFF made the jailbreaking request to government regulators. Below is Threat Level's foolproof demonstration of jailbreaking.
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