So, there I am enjoying a nice Gilmore Girls episode after a long day’s work, and Engadget’s iPhone application brings the good news: the US Library of Congress has added a DMCA exemption for jailbreaking or rooting mobile phones! This is a major blow to Apple, who actively tried to keep jailbreaking a criminal offence, and a major win for everyone who believes that the phone you buy is actually yours, and not the manufacturer’s.
Every three years, the Library of Congress allows people to complain about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, so that possibly, exemptions can be added to the law. The DMCA makes it illegal to circumvent technological protections measures on stuff DVDs, music, software, electronic devices like mobile phones, and so on.
As Ars Technica notes, the Library of Congress has been very slow when it comes to allowing these exemptions – up until now. This time around, they’ve approved a whole boatload of important exemptions to the much-hated DMCA, returning ownership of some of your DVDs, music, and electronic devices back to you.
The most important and far-reaching exemption is the one on jailbreaking (or rooting, in Android language). In case you didn’t know: this represents the conclusion in a tug of war between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Apple. The EFF asked for the exemption, while Apple fought hard to keep jailbreaking illegal.
Well, Apple lost.
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.
In other words, you are not breaking the DMCA if you jailbreak your iPhone in order to run applications not approved by the device’s maker, which in this case is Apple. The Library of Congress specifically addresses Apple’s complaints, which mostly centre around the idea that jailbreaking would harm Apple’s controlled ecosystem.
First of all, the Library argues that jailbreaking cannot be seen as copyright infringement, since a jailbroken iPhone used “fewer than 50 bytes of code out of more than 8 million bytes, or approximately 1/160,000 of the copyrighted work as a whole. Where the alleged infringement consists of the making of an unauthorized derivative work, and the only modifications are so de minimis, the fact that iPhone users are using almost the entire iPhone firmware for the purpose for which it was provided to them by Apple undermines the significance” of Apple’s argument.
Furthermore, “on balance, the Register concludes that 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”.
That one surely isn’t going to sit well in Cupertino.
The EFF, who did all the hard work on our behalf, is obviously pleased with the outcome. “Copyright law has long held that making programs interoperable is fair use,” said Corynne McSherry, EFF’s Senior Staff Attorney, “It’s gratifying that the Copyright Office acknowledges this right and agrees that the anticircumvention laws should not interfere with interoperability.”
Several other exemptions were added as well, but they are more specific and less useful than the jailbreaking one. All in all, this is great news for American consumers, and a rightful blow to the face of Apple and other companies aspiring to be like Apple.