Is jailbreaking your iPhone legal?

Posted by Aharon Etengoff

If Steve Jobs and Apple had their way, the penalty for jailbreaking would undoubtedly involve the mandatory donning of an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit and a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay.

Fortunately, however, the federal government has officially sanctioned the popular activity which allows iPhone (and Android) owners to legally break electronic locks on their devices and download "unapproved" software apps without fear of imprisonment or penalty.

Is jailbreaking your iPhone legal?"Section 1201(a)(1) of the copyright law requires that every three years I am to determine whether there are any classes of works that will be subject to exemptions from the statute's prohibition against circumvention of technology that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work," Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explained in an official statement.

"Today I have designated six classes of works, [including] computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset."

Other notable classes approved by Billington include:

  • Allowing cell phone owners to crack access controls and switch wireless carriers.
  • Permitting individuals to bypass "technological protection measures" on video games to investigate or correct security-related flaws.
  • Sanctioning the breaking of DVD copy-protection measures by professors, students and filmmakers for the purposes of criticism, comment and educational embedding.

"All of these classes of works find their origins in classes that I designated at the conclusion of the previous rulemaking proceeding, but some of the classes have changed due to differences in the facts and arguments presented in the current proceeding," added Billington.