Recently, a lot of uncertainty has been circling around the issue of whether or not it should be legal to jailbreak 3G phones. “Jailbreaking” is now the common slang term for hacking into a Verizon iPhone, allowing users to run applications on the Apple OS that are not licensed or authorized by the Apple corporation. Confusion has now been cleared up by DMCA regulators, who have reached a consensus, which basically states that there is no unfair use attributed to the user who makes modifications to his or her iPhone, thereby making it operable with applications not approved by Apple.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a U.S. Copyright law that makes it criminal to produce or propagate technology used to hedge digital rights management (DRM) which limit access to works that are copyrighted. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has requested that the jailbreak Verizon phone be added to a list of specific exemptions that will ultimately not be applied to this act. The EFF contends that the iPhone’s integration protection system is purely a strategic business decision, bent on preventing competition. The EFF also maintains that jailbreaking represents fair use of the firmware linked to the operating system.
This new revelation comes at the expense of Apple, which has profited on a closed business model, introduced in 2007 when the iPhone debuted. While Apple has stated in the past that is not legal to jailbreak, to this date no action, legal or otherwise, has been taken against the untold numbers of iPhone users who have hacked into their phones to use Cyndia, an underground application store.
Apple has currently sold in excess of three billion applications, and emphatically states that its closed model has been the key to the iPhone’s success. Apple executives feel that other cellular phone networks could likewise be victim to devastating cyber attacks by iPhone users worldwide if they are permitted to legally break into their devices.
Proposed exemptions to the DMCA are brought up for review every three years. From Apple’s perspective, the DMCA should protect the encryption (which is copyrighted) and included in the start up of the iPhone OS. However, the Copyright Office came to a different conclusion – that instead, the restrictions that a copyright owner might impose upon an OS are not covered under a law meant to criminalize the violation of those restrictions.
Cydia, the forbidden application marketplace, can currently boast about nine million iPhones having the app installed. This news, naturally, comes as a great relief to the folks at Cydia and other alternative (but not sanctioned) applications written for installation and function on the iPhone (such as Rock Your Phone, which sells an app that enables the iPhone to become Wi-Fi hotspot.) The jailbreak community at large feels that this decision has given it legitimacy.
In response, Apple states that modification of the iPhone OS can lead to the inception of work which is a violation, yet protected by copyright law – and that the applicable license on the OS prohibits any software alterations. In addition (and not surprisingly) Apple has found that the unauthorized modifications are to be blamed for OS instabilities and other technical issues. Henceforth, they have explicitly stated that such alterations will void the iPhone warranty.