If you're a Verizon wireless customer and want an iPhone, can figure out how to "unlock" its network safeguards, and are willing to void your warranty, the government says it's you legal right to do so.
In an official ruling, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress ruled there's nothing in the law to prevent any mobile phone from being altered to work on a different network than it was intended.
Apple has an exclusive contract with AT&T; for the popular iPhone and has strongly discouraged consumers from "jailbreaking," the term applied to unlocking the phone's network feature. It has threatened legal action against those who do, though it has never followed through on the threat.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) requested the ruling, as well as legal protections for artists who remix videos -- people who, until now, could have been sued for their non-infringing or fair use activities.
"By granting all of EFF's applications, the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress have taken three important steps today to mitigate some of the harms caused by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)," said Jennifer Granick, EFF's Civil Liberties Director. "We are thrilled to have helped free jailbreakers, unlockers and vidders from this law's overbroad reach."
In its reasoning in favor of the 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 ruling stated.
"While some consumers may welcome the elimination of these copyright protections when considering new applications and features for their wireless devices, they still need to review the terms of service from their carrier and device manufacturer since altering the underlying source code may void the manufacturer's warranties and adversely affect how the device operates on a wireless network," said Michael Altschul, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of CTIA-The Wireless Association.
The new rules, of course, don't apply just to the iPhone. They also clear the way for jailbreaking of Motorola, Samsung or other manufacturers' phones, which may have exclusive apps. The operating system on Motorola's Droid X cannot be changed and Samsung's Captivate can install apps only from the Google and AT&T; Marketplace.
The bottom line of the government ruling, says EFF, is that the previous rules were not designed to protect consumers.
"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 copyrights," said Granick. "The Copyright Office agrees with EFF that the DMCA shouldn't be used as a barrier to prevent people who purchase phones from keeping those phones when they change carriers. The DMCA also shouldn't be used to interfere with recyclers who want to extend the useful life of a handset."