Apple: Jailbreaking Your iPhone is a Crime

By  |  Friday, February 13, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Unlocked iPhoneThe Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Fred von Lohmann has published a post saying that Apple has filed comments with the Copyright Office contending that jailbreaking an iPhone is a violation of its copyright on the iPhone’s software. Jailbreaking–the act of modifying your iPhone’s OS to allow the installation of any software you want, rather than only what’s available from Apple’s iTunes Store–is the only way to get some software, such as turn-by-turn GPS and videostreaming tools.

I don’t know if Apple’s stance is a reasonable interpretation of the law as it stands–although if the company was correct that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes jailbreaking illegal, it wouldn’t be the first time that the DMCA enabled anti-consumer, anti-competitive behavior. As terrific as the iPhone, the iPhone OS, and the App Store are, I’m bothered both by Apple having a monopoly on iPhone app distribution in principle and by some of the actions it’s taken. It’s been cryptic and inconsistent about the apps it will and won’t approve; it’s told developers they’re not allowed to compete with functionality in Apple’s own programs; it’s taken a ridicuously long time to approve software for sale in the App Store.

I’m an optimist, so I think Apple will eventually get iPhone software distribution right. But I believe it’ll do so much faster if alternate means of iPhone software distribution exist, even if very few iPhone users take advantage of them.

While I don’t always agree with von Lohmann and the EFF’s take on things, I do like this quote in his post:

One need only transpose Apple’s arguments to the world of automobiles to recognize their absurdity. Sure, GM might tell us that, for our own safety, all servicing should be done by an authorized GM dealer using only genuine GM parts. Toyota might say that swapping your engine could reduce the reliability of your car. And Mazda could say that those who throw a supercharger on their Miatas frequently exceed the legal speed limit.

But we’d never accept this corporate paternalism as a justification for welding every car hood shut and imposing legal liability on car buffs tinkering in their garages. After all, the culture of tinkering (or hacking, if you prefer) is an important part of our innovation economy.

Well said–and I support the EFF’s attempt to get the Copyright Office to officially state that jailbreaking doesn’t violate copyright law. Even though I own an unjailbroken iPhone, and I’m still going back and forth on whether I wanna go for it…


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Steven Fisher Says:

    Stopping jailbreaking is less about eliminating competition as removing the 3:1 pirated:legitimate app ratio. This is, sadly, an absolute necessity at this point if you want to have any non-free third party applications.

  2. keliel Says:

    bigger irony – the free software used to jailbreak itself has been pirated and is being sold.

  3. Backlin Says:

    I’m not going to lie, I have my iPod Touch jailbroken. There is far less at stake there (because an unlock is not possible), but I will honestly say I don’t use modified firmware to use cracked apps. In fact, I was outraged when Crackuolous was released, and the creator is attempting to make money from it! I would laugh if a member of that community bought it and cracked it! I would just like my iPod Touch to do more than Apple allows it to. Having a background isn’t going to murder performance, is it? And if they added the ability to download Youtube videos to the device, I would be back on original firmware.

  4. Gavin Barrie Says:

    Folks, Apple invented the iPhone, the operating system it runs and the App store. They deserve to make money for their efforts. If you don’t like the rules they apply for App store acceptance, then fine, go over to Symbian or Android. Jailbreaking should be banned. End of.

  5. Sage Says:

    Gavin Barrie, You’re just a whiner.

    When you buy an iPhone you own it. You’re not renting it or borrowing it it is yours. As such you should be able to modify it in any way you want. Next you’re going to tell me it should be illegal to mix car parts or change your Windows start-up sound. Nothing about jail-breaking should have anything to do with reverse-engineering copyright protection; no one’s copying the iPhone OS and putting it on other devices; in fact no one’s taking anything away from the iPod–they’re putting stuff on it.

    And I’m not even going to go into detail as to why apple doesn’t deserve crap because their lies and guile are second only to the mighty Bill Gates (AKA Lord of Digital Darkness).

  6. Melissa Says:

    So you can get arrested for that? Wow…Anyways on that subject, this might be interesting for a topic…You guys should check this out, Second Voice is a service that offeres you to have 2 cell phone numbers and 2 voice mails in one phone. Take a look, thought it might be interesting.

    In jail for craking an iphone?

  7. jailbreaking iPhone Says:

    Jailbreaking is totally worth it. Its a shame that it allows people to do illegal things but all the customizations that apple just decides not to offer and that jailbreaking graciously does makes it definitely worth doing.

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