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Apple's breaking of iPhones that had been hacked is now the subject of a lawsuit, which claims the controversial tactic violates California laws governing antitrust and fair business practices.

The complaint (PDF), which seeks class-action status, was filed Friday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, just a short drive from Apple's Cupertino headquarters. It was filed on behalf of an iPhone buyer alleged to have been harmed when a security update issued late last month caused modified iPhones to lock up.

"On September 27, 2007, Apple punished consumers for exercising their rights to unlock their iPhones," the complaint alleges. "Apple issued a software update that "bricked" or otherwise caused iPhone malfunctions for consumers who unlocked their phones and installed the update."

It claims the restriction undermines an exemption the US Register of Copyrights made to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that specifically allows handset owners to tweak their devices so they work on competing cellular networks. The suit also claims Apple's arrangement with AT&T is an unlawful tying arrangement as defined under California antitrust statutes.

Within hours of the iPhone's debut, hackers were hard at work finding vulnerabilities and figuring out ways to make the device work on networks other than AT&T's and run third-party programs. Both acts are forbidden by Apple. ®

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