Americans can now legally “jailbreak” their mobile phones, and take excerpts from protected DVDs for educational purposes, or to create non-commercial works for outlets such as YouTube. They can also legally circumvent copy protection on ebooks for the purpose of using “read aloud” features, and legally circumvent obsolete dongles in order to continue using protected software.
The “jailbreak” ruling is a blow to Apple, which had argued that copyright protection prevented users from legally installing applications not downloaded from Apple’s iTunes App Store. Apple had also stated that: “Unauthorized modification of iPhone OS has been a major source of instability, disruption of services, and other issues.” However, under the new rules, breaking Apple’s copyright protection for interoperability purposes constitutes “fair use”.
The Librarian of Congress varied several rules applying to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in a statement today: Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works.
The ruling now says that a DVD movie’s copy protection can be circumvented, if necessary, “solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment”. This allows for: (i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students; (ii) Documentary filmmaking; (iii) Noncommercial videos.
The copy protection on video games on personal computers can be circumvented “solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities,” says the ruling.
This is the fourth set of variations that the Librarian of Congress has made to the DMCA.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has claimed credit for winning three critical exemptions. "By granting all of EFF's applications, the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress have taken three important steps today to mitigate some of the harms caused by the DMCA," Jennifer Granick, EFF's Civil Liberties Director, said in a statement. "We are thrilled to have helped free jailbreakers, unlockers and vidders from this law's overbroad reach."
It’s not clear whether the ruling will make much practical difference to locked-in iPhone users. Apple can’t be expected to make its phones easier to jailbreak, and can be expected to continue to vary its software to try to block interoperability introduced by other companies or by individual users. Apple won’t be able to sue “jailbreakers” under the provisions of the DMCA, but it wasn’t suing them anyway.