The US Library of Congress has ruled that it is legal to hack a mobile phone to use different apps, services and network providers
The ruling means that smartphone owners will be able to “hack” their phones, a process known as “jailbreaking”, in order to run applications and software without the approval of the phone’s maker.
They will also be able to change their service provider, allowing consumers to use whichever network they want, regardless of whether a handset maker has signed an exclusivity deal with a carrier partner.
It means that iPhone users, for instance, will be able to legally download and install apps on their handset that have not been approved by Apple.
The decision was made by the US copyright office, a division of the Library of Congress, following a campaign by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which lobbies for free speech online and technological innovation. It amends a copyright rule, made in 1998, that made it illegal for phone user to bypass technical locks on their devices.
James Billington, Librarian of Congress, said phone owners who “jailbroke” their handsets would “not be subject to the statutory prohibition against circumvention”.
Apple said the change could “severely degrade” the iPhone experience, and cause the device to “become unstable and not work reliably”. The company also stressed that “jailbreaking” an iPhone would still void the device’s warranty, despite the ruling.
Meanwhile, internet freedom campaigners welcomed the decision. “The Copyright Office recognises that the primary purpose of the locks on cell phones is to bind customers to their existing networks, rather than to protect copyrights,” said a spokesman for the EFF.
“More than a million iPhone owners are already said to have ‘jailbroken’ their handsets in order to change wireless providers.”
The ruling also means that people who circumvent copy protection on DVDs to extract short clips to make in to “mash-up” videos – such as the popular Downfall internet memes – are no longer violating the law, as long as the resultant video is for non-commercial purposes.