Could jailbreak rule speed government iPhone adoption?

Lack of access to apps is a key hurdle

You can now use non-Apple programs on your iPhone without fearing copyright recriminations.

Colloquially known as “jailbreaking,” the practice had received heated resistance from Apple, which said it infringed on its copyrights by using modified versions of its operating system, encouraged piracy and taxed the company’s customer support staff. Proponents said they simply wanted to have access to features and programs on their phones that Apple had limited or restricted.

Librarian of Congress James Billington issued the new rule Monday, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The ruling is actually broader than Apple – it applies to any smart phone operating system that prevents the installation of outside applications.

By law, Billington is required to review the DMCA every three years to see if there are any emerging technologies that might be exempt from the law's ban on circumventing access to copyrighted material. This time, there were 19 cases the public had submitted, and Billington exempted six. The iPhone ruling, as well as some other technology exemptions, came at the request of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer advocacy group.


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The ruling may open the door for more government users of iPhones, which has a low adoption rate in the public sector. One of the major drawbacks to government adoption had been Apple’s restriction on the applications that could run on the phone.  However, "jailbreaking" isn't something Apple supports or wants to encourage, Dan Schointuch at MoneyTalks News, provides a primer on just how to do it, but also warns that it is likely to void the phone's warranty and possibly violate the wireless service agreement.

Billington also ruled that users can “unlock” their phones, or lift the controls that restrict the phone’s use to one particular wireless carrier.

Among the other technologies Billington exempted: The use of copyrighted movie excerpts incorporated into new works for criticism or comment in colleges and universities, documentary filmmaking, and noncommercial video; and literary works in e-book format that contain access controls preventing the book’s read-aloud function or that render the text in a specialized format.

The companies involved have not commented on the decision.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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