Fantastic news today from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). After a lot of hard work and mountains of paperwork, jailbreaking your iPhone is now explicitly a permitted fair use under the DMCA!
The first of EFF’s three successful requests clarifies the legality of cell phone “jailbreaking” — software modifications that liberate iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. More than a million iPhone owners are said to have “jailbroken” their handsets in order to change wireless providers or use applications obtained from sources other than Apple’s own iTunes “App Store,” and many more have expressed a desire to do so. But the threat of DMCA liability had previously endangered these customers and alternate applications stores.
In its reasoning in favor of EFF’s jailbreaking exemption, the Copyright Office rejected Apple’s claim that copyright law prevents people from installing unapproved programs on iPhones: “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.”
The EFF also successfully renewed the existing DMCA exception for carrier unlocking. More on the ruling by the Library of Congress is here and here (and many other places, since this is huge news!). The full ruling is here, and EFF’s history with this case is here (EFF’s servers are understandably getting hammered today!).
This doesn’t mean that Apple will stop their technical attempts to thwart jailbreaking, it just means that it’s now unambiguously legal under the DMCA for you the end user to both jailbreak and unlock.