This week’s New York Times editorial agrees with the US Copyright Office that “jailbreaking” an iPhone, or hacking it to make it run non-Apple-approved apps, is legal, and Apple is not allowed to charge a fine.
The Copyright Office’s ruling essentially says that you should be able to do whatever you want with a piece of hardware that you purchase. In essence, if you buy it, it’s yours to alter or destroy.
It’s about time a government organization stepped forward and proclaimed that we as individuals have rights re what we can do with our personal belongings.
The Copyright Office sees the distinction between intellectual property and objects. Being able to hack your iPhone is vastly different from giving away MP3 files of your favorite rock star’s music. This is what the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was designed to enforce: pirating of software, music, movies that are under copyright.
I hope this will be the beginning of the push back against the more restrictive portions of the DMCA, which stifles fair use and free expression by making people too afraid to do things that are actually legal–such as use copyrighted content for parody, scholarly comment or argument, or research or educational purposes.
For further reading, check out Freedom to Tinker, which has posts on the topic of legal issues surrounding repair and modification of technology.