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January 27, 2012

'Jailbreakers' of Devices Should Not Land in Jail, Advocates Argue

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

An exemption which allows for “jailbreaking” of the iPhone (News - Alert) and other devices may soon expire, so several organizations are pushing to keep it in place.

Jailbreaking relates to users having the legal right to modify electronic gadgets or remix videos, explains the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In the case of iOS devices such as the iPhone, jailbreaking basically relates to “removing software locks added by Apple (News - Alert) that limit the things it can do, allowing users to download third-party apps from stores that aren’t run by Apple,” explains Appolicious. “Doing so voids the device’s warranty, but if Apple and other device makers had their way, it’d be illegal to break the maker’s controls on devices completely.”

Exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 for smartphones and remix videos will expire without the renewal. The U.S. Copyright Office – which earlier came up with the exemptions – needs to “protect the ‘jailbreaking’ of smartphones, electronic tablets, and video game systems – freeing them to run operating systems and applications from any source,” according to EFF.

"Jailbreaking is not a crime," EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz said in a recent EFF statement. The EFF also wants protections in place for critics or artists who take excerpts from sources, such as DVDs or Internet video services, to come up with remixed products.

"The Internet has helped foster extraordinary and powerful new forms of commentary that rely, in part, on the ordinary activity of borrowing clips of news and popular culture," EFF IP Director Corynne McSherry explained in the statement. "This is part of our everyday political debate and should be protected by copyright law, not discouraged."

"The DMCA is supposed to block copyright infringement, but it's been misused to threaten tinkerers and users who just want to make their devices more secure and more functional," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann added in the statement.

If the exemption expires, device manufacturers could sue jailbreakers, “just as Microsoft (News - Alert) did a few years ago when it targeted an Xbox hacker,” according to Appolicious.

In addition, the Software Freedom Law Center, which is also involved on the issue, wants exemptions extended to all personal computing devices, according to a report from TMCnet.

The EFF is currently collecting signatures on a petition to renew the exemption for jailbreaking. “The idea that you might face criminal charges because you altered your own property is totally unfair,” Rebecca Jeschke, media relations director and digital rights analyst for the EFF, told Mashable.

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Ed Silverstein is a TMCnet contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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