‘Jailbreaking’ is legal

It
is not illegal to “jailbreak” your smartphone.

In
a decision that strikes at Apple’s iron-fisted control over which apps can run
on the iPhone, the librarian of Congress ruled that U.S. copyright law does not
prohibit consumers from altering their smartphone’s software so they can run
third-party applications that have not been approved by the phone’s
manufacturer.

The
decision has the potential to shake up the wireless industry, where Apple has
seen tremendous success with a business model that includes carefully screening
and controlling the software that runs on some of its most popular gadgets.

Apple
opposed the ruling, warning that “jail breaking can severely degrade the
experience” that most iPhone users want. Civil libertarians, however,
called the decision a victory for consumers and independent developers — even
if the immediate effect may be limited to a tech-savvy few.

Legal
experts also said the ruling does not preclude Apple — or any other phone
manufacturer — from taking various steps to discourage jail-breaking, such as
declaring the warranty void if a product’s software is altered, or issuing
software updates that override a consumer’s modifications.

Others
said the ruling establishes that consumers have the right to decide how they
want to use the electronic gadgets they purchase. The Electronic Frontier
Foundation, a non-profit civil-liberties group that argued for the decision,
called it “an enormous victory for consumers and creators.”

Librarian
James Billington also agreed to extend an earlier exemption that allows
consumers to “unlock” their smartphones, or alter the software so
that they can access other wireless networks besides AT&T. Despite some
consumers’ frustration with AT&T’s quality of service, however, analysts
said the exemption does not help those who would like to use another U.S.
carrier such as Verizon — since the two carriers are technically incompatible
in other ways.

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