The Electronic Frontier Foundation won some key protections for folks that jailbreak Apple's iPhones---and presumably other devices---to run apps that aren't approved by Steve Jobs & Co.
In a statement, the EFF said it won three exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) surrounding remixed videos and people that modify cell phones. Until the EFF victory, these people could have been sued.
Let's focus on the jailbreakers and cell phone unlockers. The EFF said:
The first of EFF's three successful requests clarifies the legality of cell phone "jailbreaking" — software modifications that liberate iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. More than a million iPhone owners are said to have "jailbroken" their handsets in order to change wireless providers or use applications obtained from sources other than Apple's own iTunes "App Store," and many more have expressed a desire to do so. But the threat of DMCA liability had previously endangered these customers and alternate applications stores.
In its reasoning in favor of EFF's jailbreaking exemption, the Copyright Office rejected Apple's claim that copyright law prevents people from installing unapproved programs on iPhones: "When one jailbreaks a smartphone in order to make the operating system on that phone interoperable with an independently created application that has not been approved by the maker of the smartphone or the maker of its operating system, the modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses."
Now this ruling will matter a lot to someone that could have found themselves eyed by Apple. But what about the rest of us?
For the average bear, this EFF win is a non-event. Most of us aren't going to unlock phones or install software that may be a risk to the device. Life’s just too short to fiddle with your device software. Meanwhile, it's not clear Apple would go nuts suing everyone like the RIAA. However, Apple doesn't have to support your jailbroken phone. That's a large enough deterrent for most folks.