Jailbreaking Is Not a Crime

By Jessica Greene
|  Monday, Jul 26, 2010  |  Updated 3:16 PM CDT
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Attention iPhone users: Jailbreaking your phone not a crime.

The good news came Monday morning as federal regulators decided that the common practice of hacking the phone's software falls inside the limits of the law.

For those who might not be so advanced in the iPhone jargon -- to jailbreak one means adjusting its operating system, unlocking it so the phone can run on any network or use apps not authorized by Apple.

That means underground app store Cydia will likely be seeing a jump in numbers over the next several weeks.

While it may come as good news to iPhone loyalists, the decision could hurt Apple in the long run. The company has been on top, partly, because when the iPhone first hit the market in 2007, Apple declared it was illegal to jailbreak one. But, as Wired points out, nobody has ever been arrested for jailbreaking an iPhone.

The jailbreak decision is one of a handful of new exemptions from a 1998 federal law that prohibits people from bypassing technical measures that companies put on their products to prevent unauthorized uses.

In addition to jailbreaking, other exemptions announced Monday would:

  • allow owners of used cell phones to break access controls on their phones in order to switch wireless carriers.
  • allow people to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws.
  • allow college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos.
  • allow computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called dongles if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced.

The Library of Congress, which oversees the Copyright Office, reviews and authorizes exemptions every three years to ensure that the law does not prevent certain non-infringing use of copyright-protected material.

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