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Jailbreaking some devices now legal under DMCA exemption, but some limits still apply

News by Andrew Kameka on Friday October 26, 2012.

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The Copyright Office at the U.S. Library of Congress has announced that it will provide exemptions on circumventing copyright-protection systems in technology, a move that makes it legal to "jailbreak" technology by overriding software or device limitations put in place by manufacturers.

The new exemptions are part of changes made to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a 1996 law that makes it illegal to distribute information or technology designed to circumvent copyright. Manufacturers have used the DMCA to thwart individuals who attempt to jailbreak devices and unlock more features or install custom software. The Library of Congress, which has the power to grant exemptions to the DMCA, has announced a new set of guidelines that will change how the DMCA treats the act of jailbreaking devices like the Apple iPhone.

Ars Technica highlights that some exemptions provide added protection and legal freedom to people who jailbreak devices, but the rule changes are not applied consistently, so some limitations are still in place. Here are two key examples:

- The DMCA makes it legal to jailbreak an iPhone but not an iPad. The rule states that "telephone handsets" are allowed to make changes, but found that the definition of a 'tablet' is "broad and ill-defined." The Librarian ruled that because there's no clear definition of what can be considered a tablet - according to the Librarian and manufacturers, an eReader, portable gaming device, or a laptop could conceivably be labeled a tablet - it did not provide an exemption for that class of device. One could easily point out that there is a considerable difference between an iPad, which is a tablet, and a MacBook, which is a laptop, but the Librarian found that there is enough gray area to warrant not offering an exemption that could then be widely applied to many form factors.

- While customers can jailbreak a device without fear, they will face a harder time attempting to unlock a device to use on a new carrier. New guidelines state that a phone can be unlocked, but only if it was "originally acquired from the operator of a wireless telecommunications network or retailer no later than ninety days after the effective date of this exemption." Phones purchased before January 2013 must be unlocked, but unlocking phones after that date will be at the carrier's discretion. If someone purchases a phone from AT&T on February 20, 2013, AT&T is under no obligation to unlock the phone and make it compatible for service on T-Mobile.

source: U.S. Library of Congress

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Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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