Cellphone Jailbreakers Set Free

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Rules just released by the U.S. Copyright Office will for the first time make it legal to "jailbreak" your cell phone or in some cases copy a DVD.

Want an iPhone app that Apple doesn’t offer in its iTunes store? Until today you were legally out of luck. But now you can jailbreak (i.e.,hack) your iPhone and add any program you want.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. Copyright Office – a division of the Library of Congress – just released new exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that give consumers a lot more leeway in several areas. Here’s a list things you can now legally do, culled from this recent statement.

Formerly prohibited, now legal

  1. You can now defeat DVD encryption, if doing so for the sole purpose of using a snippet of the contents for criticism, education or to create new, non-commercial works (a process known as “vidding”).
  2. You can now jailbreak your phone so it will run legally obtained programs from other companies. Jailbreaking involves installing a software application on your computer, then transferring it to your phone. There it opens the phone’s operating system, allowing you to modify it. Note however, that after doing this, you will most likely be in violation of the carrier’s terms and conditions. So while you may not be in violation of the law, you may void your warranty and could theoretically be denied service.
  3. You can now legally unlock your phone so it will work on another carrier’s network. (See warning above.)
  4. You can now circumvent video game encryption, if your sole purpose is security testing or legitimate investigation.
  5. You can now disable controls that prevent an e book from being “read aloud” by computer, if the purpose of doing so is for the benefit of the blind.
  6. You can now crack computer programs protected by dongles when the dongles are obsolete or no longer being manufactured. (A dongle is a small piece of hardware that connects to a computer for the purpose of copy protection or authentication of software.)

A group called the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had lobbied for some of the exemptions and was happy about the apparent victory.

“By granting all of EFF’s applications, the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress have taken three important steps today to mitigate some of the harms caused by the DMCA,” said Jennifer Granick, EFF’s Civil Liberties Director. “We are thrilled to have helped free jailbreakers, unlockers and vidders from this law’s overbroad reach.”

Stacy Johnson

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