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Apple fights iPhone unlocking (again)

Wants jailbreakers jailable

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Apple has told the US Copyright Office that jailbreaking an iPhone should be illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Apple's defense of its practice of locking down the iPhone to software and services provided only by itself and its partner AT&T came in response to petitions for DMCA exemptions that were proposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in December 2008.

One of EFF's petitions (PDF), as the digital freedom-fighters explained, was in support of "Cell phone owners who want to 'jailbreak' their phones in order to use applications of their choosing (e.g., iPhone owners who want apps from sources other than the iTunes App Store)."

Apple, as should come as no surprise, disagrees.

In their 27-page filing (PDF) with the Copyright Office, Apple argues against the anti-jailbreaking exemption "because it will destroy the technological protection of Apple's key copyrighted computer programs in the iPhone device itself and of copyrighted content owned by Apple that plays on the iPhone, resulting in copyright infringement, potential damage to the device and other potential harmful physical effects, adverse effects on the functioning of the device, and breach of contract."

The filing goes on the say that the exemption's provisions "amount to an attack on Apple’s particular business choices with respect to the design of the iPhone mobile computing platform and the strategy for delivering applications software for the iPhone through the iPhone App Store," and that "Congress did not envision the DMCA exemption process as a forum for economic restructuring of business models."

EFF, as should come as no surprise, disagrees.

In their mildly mocking reponse to Apple's filing, EFF contends that "One need only transpose Apple's arguments to the world of automobiles to recognize their absurdity. Sure, GM might tell us that, for our own safety, all servicing should be done by an authorized GM dealer using only genuine GM parts. Toyota might say that swapping your engine could reduce the reliability of your car. And Mazda could say that those who throw a supercharger on their Miatas frequently exceed the legal speed limit.

"But we'd never accept this corporate paternalism as a justification for welding every car hood shut and imposing legal liability on car buffs tinkering in their garages."

No matter with which side you may agree, one thing is undeniable: The proverbial cat is out of the proverbial bag. Since seemingly mere moments after the iPhone was first released, each time Apple upgrades its firmware to disable current jailbreaking software an enterprising hacker finds a new way to open up the iPhone in a matter of days.

Witness, for example, the most-recent of these back-and-forth exchanges: An iPhone Software 2.2.1 jailbreak appeared on January 30; Apple released the jailbreak-breaking 2.2.1 update only three days earlier.

Jailbreaking will continue whether or not the US Copyright Office grants the EFF's petitions and allows users to legally open their iPhone to third-party apps and non-AT&T carriers.

The only difference will be whether jailbreakers will look over their shoulders before tinkering under their iPhones' hoods. ®

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