As of Monday, the 26th of July, it is now legal to jailbreak an Apple iPhone. The U.S. copyright office made an amendment to the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) that says the iPhone can be jailbroken. The amendment states that iPhone owners can make their device ” interoperable with an application that Apple has not approved” legally and this “fits comfortably within the four corners of fair use”.
Since Apple’s introduction of the iPhone App Store in 2008, many app developers have had their work denied entrance to the market. As you may know, Apple examines each app submitted to the App Store and has the final word on whether it will be made available to end users. This approval process has been labeled “Draconian” by many industry pundits. Even Google has had an app, Google Voice, denied by Apple, due to its similar functionality to the iPhone’s telephone software.
To circumvent the app-approval process, users began “jailbreaking” their devices. This allowed the installation of third party apps without the approval of Apple. An alternative App Store, called Cydia, appeared for users looking for applications that could not make it into the official iPhone App Store.
Soon after the rise of jailbreaking, Apple claimed that it was illegal to modify the smartphone in this way. Although the company has not taken any legal action, they have repeatedly pointed out that jailbreaking an iPhone voids the device’s warranty.
On Monday, the DMCA was updated to make jailbreaking an iPhone completely legal. The act also protects other smartphone users wishing to have more power over their devices, such as Android owners who want to root their device. However, the act merely states that users can jailbreak their iPhone, it does not make it illegal for Apple to try to stop them through changes to their iOS operating system.
So how does this affect current iPhone owners? With the iOS 4.0 update and the iPhone 4, Apple’s flagship device can now multitask, which was the reason many users previously jailbroke their iPhones. And some users claim that jailbreaking causes a slowdown on their device, likely due to overloading it and making it do things it was not designed to do.
Personally, I have jailbroken a second-generation iPod touch. The device did become much more sluggish and I plan on un-jailbreaking it soon. I also have an iPhone 4 which I do not plan to jailbreak, due to the new features in Apple’s official software.
Although it is now legal to customize your iPhone’s operating system, some of the original glamor of jailbreaking seems to have faded. If Apple continues to improve their official OS, it becomes less necessary to jailbreak it. The only problem left is Apple’s overly strict approval process for apps. If a user’s favorite app continues to get denied for inclusion in the App Store, he will have no choice but to circumvent Apple’s control.