The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has just announced some big, big wins for consumers. Labeled as “exemptions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act,” a law enacted in the late ’90s to protect copyright holders against piracy, it’s now within consumers’ legal rights to jailbreak phones, rip DVDs (for certain uses), and a 2006 exemption granting cell phone owners the right to unlock phones in order to switch carriers has been renewed.
“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.”
This exemption basically states that Apple can’t force people to only download iPhone apps that have been approved by Apple first. EFF attorney Corynne McSherry says, “Copyright law has long held that making programs interoperable is fair use.” So by jailbreaking your iPhone in order to make it compatible with software that’s available outside Apple’s app store, you’re no longer breaking any laws.
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Now it’ll be interesting to see how many additional jailbreaking services pop up aside from the ones that are already freely available. It’ll be even more interesting to see if Apple provides its own method for opening up your iPhone. Don’t count on it, even though it might make sense from a technical perspective for Apple to oversee the jailbreaking process.
The company’s got profits to protect and every app sold outside the App Store is money that doesn’t go to Apple. It’d make the most sense for Apple to open up all apps to its store with minimal oversight similar to how the Android Market works, so it could make sure to get a cut of as many apps as possible. That’s not really Apple’s style, though.
The other big win for the EFF and consumers is an exemption that grants video remixers on sites like YouTube the right to rip DVDs and use “short excerpts” of footage “in order to create new, noncommercial works for purposes of criticism or comment if they believe that circumvention is necessary to fulfill that purpose.”
The EFF contends that “Hollywood has historically taken the view that ‘ripping’ DVDs is always a violation of the DMCA, no matter the purpose.”
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