Jailbreaking may no longer be the appropriate term for downloading unapproved but legally acquired applications onto Apple’s iPhones, in the wake of new rules announced Monday by the U.S. government. The Library of Congress’ Copyright Office, which, every three years, reviews exemptions to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibiting unauthorized uses of certain products, has issued a new ruling that jailbreaking is legal.
The ruling, which could have a substantial impact on Apple’s ability to control what goes onto its devices, says a three-year exemption will be granted to “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.”
The librarian of Congress, on the recommendation of the register of copyrights, announced which classes of work are exempt to the “prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works,” as specified in the DMCA.
The specified classes are exempt, and therefore legal, for the next three-year period. In addition to the exemption for jailbreaking, the new rules include audiovisual works in a college or university that are video-clip compilations intended for educational use, computer programs and video games in obsolete formats where circumvention of technical protections is needed for preservation purposes, and computer programs that are protected by obsolete dongles.
In addition, books in the fast-growing e-book category can have their technical protections legally overridden when they prevent either accurate rendering by screen readers or the read-aloud function, both of which might be needed by people with disabilities.
Firmware in telephone handsets can also now legally be broken “when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.” This exemption could impact the growing movement toward third-party cell phones and other devices that can work on any carrier.
The exemptions also include overcoming “technological protection measures” on CDs, where those measures “create or exploit security flaws or vulnerabilities that compromise the security of personal computers,” and where the user is intending only to test or correct the security flaws.
Several other exemptions were considered, but rejected. These included renewal of an exemption that allowed users to legally override Internet filtering software. The librarian found that the proponents failed to present updated information to support their case.
Also rejected were exemptions for breaking protections on DVDs to allow them to be used on Linux operating systems, for computer programs that don’t work on upgraded operating systems, and for works protected by access controls that prevent the creation of backup copies.