updated 12:25 pm EDT, Mon July 26, 2010
US says jailbreaks, hacks OK when purpose is legal
The Library of Congress today ruled that breaking copy protection is legal on many devices, including phones, for the sake of fair use. The decision specifically allows smartphone owners to jailbreak and root their phones to run legal third-party apps. It similarly greenlights unlocking the phone for use on another network that allows the practice.
Other exemptions also have significant impact on media. The move would let schools and others to break the CSS encryption on DVDs to use short clips for documentaries and other not-for-profit efforts. Video game owners can crack copy protection to study or fix security holes when it doesn't create an exploit by itself. Security dongles, such as USB sticks, that aren't made anymore or easily repaired can also be cracked.
Pressure exerted on Amazon to remove text-to-speech from the Kindle has also been thwarted, as the exemptions would let owners break DRM barring the feature or any other conversion to an accessible format.
The decision could almost immediately have an effect on Apple, Microsoft and any other smartphone OS designer whose platform prevents the installation of outside apps. While it would not force them to automatically allow software from beyond the App Store or Windows Phone Marketplace, it would prevent them from taking legal action against jailbreakers or app developers that aren't violating any laws. It could additionally prevent AT&T from taking legal action to stop customers from rooting Android phones to bypass its artificial ban on non-Market titles.
None of the involved companies has yet to comment on or contest the Library of Congress decision.