Jailbreaking smartphones remains legal. Tablets? Not so much.

By on October 26, 2012, 4:30 PM

The U.S. Copyright Office has performed its triennial review of exceptions to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Officials have most notably determined jailbreaking smartphones (but not tablets) remains legal, unlocking phones is legal -- but only with your carrier's blessings -- and copying DVDs is still not covered under fair use, thanks mostly to that tricksy bit of weak encryption still employed by most distributors.

As mentioned above, when it comes to jailbreaking, smartphones are still perfectly legal to tinker with. Where this anomalous exception falls short though, is pretty much anything else: tablets, e-readers and game consoles. It's worth noting in 2010, officials also deemed jailbreaking to be legal on smartphones.

Regulators reckon that the DRM used to protect e-books and video games trumps full "software interoperability" (read: freedom to use it how you'd like) because the production of such titles is labor and resource intensive. This is in contrast to apps, intellectual property which the gaming industry believes isn't as valuable (i.e. less investment and effort to create). In part because apps are supposedly less valuable, regulators conceded jailbreaking is okay on phones but not game consoles. Tablets and e-readers also remain off-limits, due in part to the protection of e-books.

Of course, allowing owners to jailbreak their iPhone (i.e. smartphone) but not their iPad (i.e. tablet) sounds somewhat nonsensical, but the omission of a tablet exception seems driven by the failure to properly define what a "tablet" is. It looks like regulators want to wait this one out, admitting they'd rather not make a blanket decision regarding such a rapidly evolving device. 

The idea of software on a user's phone being "licensed" to them comes up as a reason to prohibit unlocking. Software is "licensed" to its users with restrictions, limitations of use and so on. That's fascinating logic though, since officials decided it doesn't work this way with jailbreaking. Go figure. 

Incidentally, DIY phone unlockers are also likely to be disappointed. Although unlocking "legacy" phones will remain legal in practice, unlocking new phones purchased after October 28 this year will require explicit permission from the carrier. Fortunately, AT&T and others provide legitimate methods to evade carrier lock-in, but users will find themselves at the mercy of their carrier's fine print (e.g. like being out of contract).

For those who don't know -- unlike jailbreaking which essentially "unlocks" operating system restrictions -- actually unlocking a phone frees it purely from carrier restrictions (i.e. being artificially bound to a single carrier's network).

Interestingly, while regulators found the wholesale duplication of DVDs to be a disagreeable act, copyright officials did write that users may still legally use "short portions of the motion pictures for the purpose of criticism or comment". However, without an official declaration of precisely how long a "short portion" should be, there's a bumper crop of ambiguity here for fair use supporters and detractors alike.

Readers may check out the entire synopsis of the review here which touches on subjects in far more detail, citing arguments responsible for their decisions. The next review will likely be in 2015.




User Comments: 14

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Tygerstrike said:

Well I wouldnt be one of those ppl who jailbreaks their tablet. I like mine just the way it is. Heres a little tidbit of information for those ppl who are thinking of jailbreaking a device. Doing so invalidates ANY warrenty you have on the device. Manufacture, secondary, or store warrenty.

ikesmasher said:

Well I wouldnt be one of those ppl who jailbreaks their tablet. I like mine just the way it is. Heres a little tidbit of information for those ppl who are thinking of jailbreaking a device. Doing so invalidates ANY warrenty you have on the device. Manufacture, secondary, or store warrenty.

you might forget that you can UNjailbreak your device whenever you want. and jailbreaking is practically ***** proof, meaning the only problems you might really have are accidental damage, and most doont cover that, so yea.

Tygerstrike said:

@ike

When you jailbreak your phone it leaves a little animation on you boot logger. So tho you may be able to UNjailbreak your phone, anyone who gets into your bootlogger will see that it has been jail broken. You cant remove that animation as its normally built in to be placed there if you JB your phone. I just had a customer last week who decided to jailbreak their Android phone. They screwed it up. In the process of attempting to fix their phone, I noticed the animation and had to inform them that missuse of their device negates their warrenty.

ikesmasher said:

I had an animation for the boot on my jailbroken ipod, but I restored it (I dont remember if I did DFU or just some basic restore or something) and when itunes had it back, functioning, in factory settings, the animation was gone along with every other possible sign...I sold that, but I distinctly remember the animation being gone...

Det Det said:

[...]I just had a customer last week who decided to jailbreak their Android phone.[...]

It's called rooting, not jailbreakin in the Android world.

Guest said:

Does the trem "jailbreak" only refer to Android devices..?

Because Android is a GUI, overtop a free Operating System...

Det Det said:

Does the trem "jailbreak" only refer to Android devices..?

Because Android is a GUI, overtop a free Operating System...

Android is _not_ a GUI. It's an operating system .

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

All I here is a bunch of "blah blah blah" coming from some lawyers trying to justify the BS they're promoting.

dawei1993 said:

All I here is a bunch of "blah blah blah" coming from some lawyers trying to justify the BS they're promoting.

Yeah. Life sucks.

tipstir tipstir, TS Ambassador, said:

Rooting the Tablet mostly what is called under the Android Tablets. All my tablets are Rooted except for the Toshiba Thrive 10.1". Root gives you adware/bloatware blockage. Overclocking access. On tablets that are not dual core you might want to consider Rooting it. Dual and Quad core you might not need it. Except if you really want the use full root. Most of the higher names have Google Apps the cheaper tablet or unknown tablet makers can't use Google Apps due to licensing issues (they don't want to pay for it) So they use GetJAR, Mobile Market 1 to replace Google Play Store. Even with Amazon App Store still like like Google Play Store for Apps, Movies, Music and Books.

If you want to get rid of the ads on your smartphone or tablet and have it rooted (jailbreak) you can use the app called adFree (free) blocks all ads in games and apps.

graff3 said:

@ike

When you jailbreak your phone it leaves a little animation on you boot logger. So tho you may be able to UNjailbreak your phone, anyone who gets into your bootlogger will see that it has been jail broken. You cant remove that animation as its normally built in to be placed there if you JB your phone. I just had a customer last week who decided to jailbreak their Android phone. They screwed it up. In the process of attempting to fix their phone, I noticed the animation and had to inform them that missuse of their device negates their warrenty.

Actually, if you re-root your phone with the stock rom it goes back to the normal android animation. I have my phone rooted and did this with my fiancees phone 2 weeks ago. Her phone took a dump and all I did was install the previous update rom, update the phone software OTA then restart it. Some of us actually research and learn this stuff so we don't get our warranties voided.

tipstir tipstir, TS Ambassador, said:

They can't tell if you root it the way you don't change the entire UI from what you had. I just root in the background. Most change out the entire OS. No-no with phones with service contract on it.

Tygerstrike said:

@graff3

Well then congratz for using your device the way you want to. Just dont forget it if you break your phone. They can get into your phone even if the screen is broken and you cant.

graff3 said:

@graff3

Well then congratz for using your device the way you want to. Just dont forget it if you break your phone. They can get into your phone even if the screen is broken and you cant.

I have long known about them voiding warranties over doing what I want with a phone that I paid for myself. Playing it safe is the only way to do things when it comes to this.

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