U.S. Copyright Office Legalizes IPhone Jailbreaks

Handing Apple a big defeat, the Library of Congress and Copyright Office said today that jailbreaking an iPhone isn't unlawful -- even when users bypass digital rights management technology to do so.

"On balance," the Library of Congress wrote, "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 decision means that people can continue to configure their devices to download apps that Apple hasn't official approved. Without this ruling, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention provisions, which prohibit people from bypassing DRM unless the Library of Congress grants an exemption, might have made jailbreaking illegal.

The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation had argued that jailbreaking smart phones should be legal. Not suprisingly, Apple opposed the request.

The ruling is good news for iPhone users who are tech-savvy enough to feel comfortably tinkering with their devices, as well as for app makers -- some of whom seem to have been rejected from the company's store for entirely arbitrary reasons.

And, even though Apple fought the request, the decision ultimately might benefit the company as well. After all, some potential buyers might find the device more attractive now that they know they can legally get around Apple's restrictions on apps.

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