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The US Just Legalized Jailbreaking

· Java Zone

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One of the most significant changes U.S. Copyright Law relating to software was handed down today.  The new rules make it legal to "jailbreak" any vendor's smartphone.  Previously, this action was illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Fair use supporters also gained a major victory in the new rules, which make it legal to bypass a DVD's CSS to rip fair use footage for criticism or educational purposes. 

The US Copyright office looks at copyright laws every three years to make revisions or exemptions, but no date was set to announce these changes, so the announcement has taken everyone by surprise.  Here are the six "classes" that are now exempt from prosecution under the DMCA:

  1. Circumventing a legally-obtained DVD's encryption in order to screen a short portion of the video (fair use) in an educational setting or for the purposes of criticism (satire, parody, news, etc.)
  2. Using a computer program that allows you to run legally-obtained software on a computing device (smartphones, etc.) that you would not be able to run on the device's default software.  For example, it is now legal to use programs to run Google Voice or Flash on the iPhone.
  3. Using a program that would allow you to run your phone on a different carrier's network.
  4. Bypassing video game encryption (DRM) for legitimate security testing or investigation
  5. Hacking programs protected by dongles when the dongles become obsolete or are no longer produced.
  6. Enabling the read-aloud function of an ebook (meant for the blind) even if there are built in controls to prevent it.

While some analysts are calling this announcement the biggest tech news in years, others don't think it will amount to much, at least for a majority of smartphone users.  Jailbreaking requires an understanding of software that few consumers have.  Scare tactics from vendors will also deter many from risking the security and stability of the device.  Plus, companies like Apple still don't have to support jailbroken devices, so hackers will be on their own.

Still, it's nice to know that smartphone vendors can't throw you in jail for taking advantage of your programming knowledge and expanding your device's functionality with legally-obtained software.  Jennifer Granick, EFF's civil liberties director, said in a prepared statement, "The Copyright Office recognizes that the primary purpose of the locks on cell phones is to bind customers to their existing networks, rather than to protect copyright."

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