The US Copyright Office decreed on Monday that Americans are no longer prevented by law from jail-breaking their iPhones.
“Jail-breaking” refers to the reprogramming/unlocking an iPhone to be compatible with non-Apple approved software applications. The practice is fairly common, as there are millions of jail-broken iPhones in current circulation.
Though bypassing an iPhone’s operating system restrictions had until very recently been illegal, iPhone manufacturer Apple had never filed copyright or breach-of-contract lawsuits against any of its customers with unlocked iPhones.
Therefore the Copyright Office’s decision is more a political victory for lobbies such as the Electronic Freedom Frontier, who advocate the right of iPhone consumers to choose what they do with their own mobile devices.
Consumers who use unlocked iPhones do so to get around the restrictions that prevent them from running unauthorised programs, as well as to be able to choose their own network providers instead of being limited to those carriers in exclusive partnership with Apple.
On the other hand, Apple is understandably against the legitimisation of jail-breaking. Primarily because it threatens the official exclusivity of its highly profitable App Store. With unlocked iPhones, users are able to buy and run unauthorised apps from underground providers, which do not contribute to the company’s profit margin.
Apple’s other major concern is that jail-broken devices are much more susceptible to security problems and malfunctions. Apple claims that its customer support centres are inundated with calls about unlocked iPhones that have been infected with malware, or even physically damaged, as a result of jail-breaking.
Since the decision to legalise jail-breaking was announced, Apple has been quick to remind that the practice is still a technical breach of contract between manufacturer and customer, and so voids the warranty on an iPhone.
Something still worth considering for consumers who prefer to live an iPhone life unlocked.
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