Copyright battle over iPhone jailbreaks

Copyright battle over iPhone jailbreaks

Summary: Nice piece from Saul Hansell in the Times around Apple's copyright claims on iPhone jailbreaking. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a filing (PDF) with the Copyright Office, urged an exception to copyright law that would allow customers to jailbreak the iPhone.

TOPICS: Apple, iPhone, Mobility
Nice piece from Saul Hansell in the Times around Apple's copyright claims on iPhone jailbreaking. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a filing (PDF) with the Copyright Office, urged an exception to copyright law that would allow customers to jailbreak the iPhone. Apple responded (PDF), urging no exception.

Is it just a question of morality, of whether a company has the right to set the rules for how their product may be used? It might seem that EFF is advocating consumer revolt, that Apple shouldn't be able to stop users from breaking its rules. But that's not the issue, EFF's Jennifer Granick tells Hansell. Apple can and does set the terms of iPhone use by contract.

The problem is that contract law would require Apple to sue users and prove they breached the license agreement, an expensive proposition. Copyright law is so much more convenient.

Under copyright law, Apple would have the right to claim statutory damages of up to $2,500 “per act of circumvention.” People who jailbreak phones, might even be subject to criminal penalties of as long as five years, if they circumvented copyright for a financial gain.

“Apple is bringing the hammer down in a way that Congress never intended and is really severe for something that is just not wrong,” Ms. Granick said. An Apple spokesman declined to comment beyond its legal filing.

Hansell finds the entire debate frustrating. For one thing, the Copyright Office will ultimately decided this issue. It's not really about copyrighted software at all. It's about whether a consumer should get to do whatever they want with the product they buy and whether a company can brick the product or punish users. It's hard to conceive of Apple actually using these legal tools against consumers, but you could imagine the company going after the jailbreak hackers.

EFF may eventually ask Congress to step in, although I have to say I find it hard to work up that much excitement over jailbreaking iPhones.

This is an issue that Congress may have to take up. Ms. Granick also pointed out that Congress has from time to time limited the ability of companies to use contract law to limit what buyers of their products can do with them. For example, car companies are not allowed to void warranties for people who chose to have repairs done somewhere other than at dealers.

Topics: Apple, iPhone, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • when we bring up morality.....

    we must first define what morals are......

    we could make the argument that jailbreaks are immoral.

    we could argue that jailbreaks a moral.

    It all depends on our definition of morality and the assumptions we make
    with that value laden term.
    • Check the dictionary.

      The definition of morals can be found there.
  • Questio in the air (brainstorm)

    I got my iphone second hand. Cash in one hand, iphone in other
    hand. I did not sign anything. No user blablabla to read and
    accept. I dont use itunes.

    Do i am shilded from apple rage?

    Im my opinion, its my phone, not apple phone. I buy it
  • Probably a moot point.

    Apple most likely will not pursue the individual jailbroke iPhone owners. The most likely targets would be the indiviual(s) or companies providing them or the means to jailbreak them. I think you are probably safe.
  • If this wen to congress, they would act in our favor, apple will not push

    that far though. They know what will happen. When it comes to using what you bought however you want, courts and congress always favor the consumer. After all, we bought it, we technically own it, its no longer their property.

    What they could do is tell apple that they could refuse to give out updates to jailbreaked phones. That would be apples best recourse. This is one area i like the french, the french would of told apple where to stick it already.
    • You got a point

      This kind of limiting funtionality would never have gone throuhg if Apple was a european company.

      It's shitty that the bad american phone/carrier marriage style business is now slipping into Europe at the same. Limiting a phone's funtionality like this was unthinkable here before the iPhone.

      Here (Finland) we have the mobile phone with it's certain abilities, and then we have the carriers with their own services and prices. Manufacturers compete against each either and carriers compete against each other without affecting the hardware. And hardware and carrier are in no way connected. The consumer can choose both separately. The iPhone is at present the only phone that is tied to one carrier... and hopefully the last.

      But the worst thing about all this are the idiotic limitations on the usage of that hardware, much of which are dictated by the carriers... just keepin' up their silos.
  • Copyright law is so much more convenient... abuse. What Apple is proposing has nothing whatever to do with the purpose of copyright and everything to do with controlling use of the product after it is sold, which, IMHO, should *never* be legally enforceable.

    This is simply another example of why copyright law needs to be reworked. If we have to withdraw from the Bern Convention to do it, then so be it. In practice, however, the USA is a big enough player that this would almost certainly not be necessary. Copyright treaties are being used as an excuse for doing what IP lobbyists want us to do anyway. If Congress decided not to go along, I strongly suspect that other parties would be amenable to changes, as preferable to US repudiation of the international copyright system. Such a decision might even embolden other national legislative bodies to follow suit.

    John L. Ries
  • Looking for DMCA exception to be removed.

    Had a great debate on another forum, personal property rights in the constitution define explicitly that ever person has the right to use their own property in any way they see fit. There are no tenets of the "copyright" laws that personal use (they key being PERSONAL use) that apply.

    You can read the entire thread here, and Apple hand waves at their constitutional rights, but they are actually looking to get the DMCA current exception removed, not arguing about whether under the constitution affords them the right to override private property rules.

    The DMCA itself only exists because the constitution guarantees private property right to use in any way you want, so they bought Congress to make the act of getting to use it any way you want illegal.

    What it comes down to, do you own your iPhone or is it leased from Apple?

  • If the iPhone what other "i"

    If Apple is willing to press this in such strong terms...

    What if they start doing a similar thing with iPods?

    The Cure is to simply not buy their product if you can't use it in a way the "fits" you.

    If we can time shift and format shift under fair use (such as what's left of it!), why can we "shift" a stinking Phone!

    Mike Sr.

    When my Wireless provider offers an iPhone for free on contracft, *then*, I might think about it. It just doesn't offer me enough bang for the Buck!

  • This is just a risky business strategy for Apple?

    Apple can file for a copyright all they want. If the prospective buyer agrees to the term, it is to the buyer?s risk if they do decide to violate the copyright law. If Apple presses for the having the prospective buyer agree to the term, it is to Apple?s risk if the client gets pissed of and back out from buying.

    If an iPhone owner do decides to violate the copyright agreement, it?s up to Apple to catch the offender. If they can?t catch them, sorry for Apple. If they do, sorry for the phone owner. Its just a matter of risk management on both parties. Unfortunately for Apple, they don?t have an inconspicuous way of tracking jailbreaking so there?s a high probability that they won?t get much advantage out of this business strategy.