The law that protects users who choose to “jailbreak” their iOS devices from copyright law is set to expire, which could change the iPhone and iPad landscape if it does.
According to a report from Mashable, the law is an exemption to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was created to help deal with software copyright issues in the Internet age. The U.S. Copyright Office created the exemption, allowing users who purchase electronic devices protection from certain software copyright laws concerned with modifying them.
“Jailbreaking” iOS devices refers to removing software locks added by Apple that limit the things it can do, allowing users to download third-party apps from stores that aren’t run by Apple, for a start. Doing so voids the device’s warranty, but if Apple and other device makers had their way, it’d be illegal to break the maker’s controls on devices completely. Opponents of such copyright law often argue that the result is effectively renting a device from Apple, Microsoft and other electronics makers, rather than owning it outright.
The exemption to DMCA protects users who purchase devices from legal threats from those devices’ creators, effectively allowing users to modify devices they purchase as they see fit, like iPhones, iPads and video game consoles, for example. If the exemption expires, it’s possible that device makers will start throwing copyright suits at known jailbreakers and modders, just as Microsoft did a few years ago when it targeted an Xbox hacker.
Electronics rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation has started a petition in an attempt to get the Copyright Office to extend the exemption. It’s also calling on users of jailbroken devices to sign the petition as well as send comments to the Copyright Office in favor of the extension. You can find the petition here.
The petition and the possible expiration of the exemption follow on the heels of a big event in the jailbreak community. Earlier this week, iPhone hackers released a jailbreak for the latest iOS devices using Apple’s A5 chip, the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2, after 10 months of the iPad being on the market. If you’re into jailbreaking, you might want to enjoy this one while you can, and contact the Copyright Office to let it know that you want jailbreaking to continue into the future.