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iPhone jailbreaking (and all cell phone unlocking) made legal

Well, this is interesting. This should have an interesting impact on revenue models, digital rights management, and mobile carrier ULA’s. Stay tuned. Check it out!

-DF

iPhone jailbreaking (and all cell phone unlocking) made legal

While the courts have been busy making decisions about digital rights, Washington has also been having its say on copyright law, at least as it relates to the iPhone and other handsets. Key new rules arrived Monday morning.

Most notably, the FCC has made the controversial practice of “jailbreaking” your iPhone — or any other cell phone — legal.

Jailbreaking — the practice of unlocking a phone (and particularly an iPhone) so it can be used on another network and/or run other applications than those approved by Apple — has technically been illegal for years. However, no one has been sued or prosecuted for the practice. (Apple does seriously frown on the practice, and jailbreaking your phone will still void your warranty.) It’s estimated that more than a million iPhone owners have jailbroken their handsets.

Apple fought hard against the legalization, arguing that jailbreaking was a form of copyright violation. The FCC disagreed, saying that jailbreaking merely enhanced the inter-operability of the phone, and was thus legitimate under fair-use rules.

The upshot is that now anyone can jailbreak or otherwise unlock any cell phone without fear of legal penalties, whether you want to install unsupported applications or switch to another cellular carrier. Cell phone companies are of course still free to make it difficult for you to do this — and your warranty will probably still be voided if you do — but at least you won’t be fined or imprisoned if you jailbreak a handset.

In addition to the jailbreaking exemption, the FCC announced a few oth er rules that have less sweeping applicability but are still significant:

• Professors, students and documentary filmmakers are now allowed, for “noncommercial” purposes, to break the copy protection measures on DVDs to be used in classroom or other not-for-profit environments. This doesn’t quite go so far as to grant you and me the right to copy a DVD so we can watch it in two rooms of the house, but it’s now only one step away.

• As was the topic in the GE ruling I wrote about, the FCC allows computer owners to bypass dongles if they are no longer in operation and can’t be replaced. Dongles are rarities in consumer technology products now, but industrial users are probably thrilled about this, as many go missing and are now impossible to obtain.

• Finally, people are now free to circumvent protection measures on video games — but, strangely, only to investigate and correct security flaws in those games. (Another oddity: Other computer software is not part of this ruling, just video games.)

— Christopher Null is a technology writer for Yahoo! News. To read the full article click here.

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Written by David Frederick

July 26, 2010 at 4:07 PM

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