Jail-breaking iPhones is not copyright infringement

By | Published on Wednesday 28 July 2010

The US Copyright Office has deemed that ‘jail-breaking’ an iPhone does not infringe Apple’s copyright. So that’s nice. The Office, part of the Library Of Congress, made the ruling in one of its regular reviews of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act after taking evidence from both Apple and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

For all their fluffiness, Apple are the biggest control freaks of the IT industry, and with their smartphone that control freakishness reached new heights, with anyone making an app for use on the iPhone needing the IT giant’s approval before it can be made available to owners of the device. Apple would argue they act this way to ensure a good user experience, and to safeguard the security of the phone users’ personal data. But some critics say there are commercial motives as well.

But, of course, it is possible to hack an iPhone so that apps not approved by Apple can be used (or so the phone will work with mobile networks other than those approved by Apple). The hacking process in this case often being referred to as ‘jail-breaking’. The IT giant told the Library Of Congress it considered such hacking to be a sort of copyright infringement, but the Congressional office did not concur.

For everyday iPhone users the ruling will make little difference. Apple stress that jail-breaking may cause the phone to actually break, and that it usually invalidates any warranty, so there are still risks to going the hack route. And anyway, Apple were unlikely to actually sue any phone owners who chose to jail-break.

But the clarification from the Copyright Office does mean that those companies providing unapproved apps for use on hacked iPhones, and those companies who help with the jail-break process, can operate safe in the knowledge they won’t be sued by Apple for encouraging others to infringe (which they might have been had jail-breaking been classified as infringement).