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Mozilla, Skype join iPhone jailbreak fight

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Skype and Mozilla have thrown their weight behind the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in that digital-freedom organization's fight to loosen the Digital Millenium Copyright Act's (DMCA) restrictions on iPhone jailbreaking.

In separate filings with the US Copyright Office, VoIP-master Skype and Firefox publisher Mozilla argue that the DMCA should be amended to allow mobile-phone users the freedom to modify their handsets to allow access to third-party applications and services not approved by the handsets' manufacturer or carrier.

While Apple's iPhone is mentioned only once in Skype's filing (PDF) and not at all in Mozilla's (PDF), that überpopular smartphone is ground zero in this digital dust-up.

Skype and Mozilla's filings come hot on the heels of Apple's defense of the existing DMCA restrictions. Apple's filing (PDF) claimed that allowing jailbreaking would sanction "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." In Cupertino's opinion, the EFF's proposed exemptions "amount to an attack on Apple’s particular business choices."

Skype and Mozilla see the matter differently. Skype's filing - written by counsels Henry Goldberg and Devendra Kumar - says that the company "strongly supports open wireless broadband networks; i.e., wireless networks on which users can attach (non-harmful) devices of their choice ('no locking') and use software applications of their choice on such devices ('no blocking').

Goldberg and Kumar see a more-open wireless world as having powerful consumer benefits: "An end-to-end network, in which consumer choice is empowered, ensures that innovation occurs at the edges of the network where hundreds if not thousands of application developers and software manufacturers, rather than a handful of wireless carriers, can compete to meet consumer demand."

Mozilla also casts its motives as pure. In its filing, Harvey Anderson, the company's VP and General Counsel, writes that "Mozilla is dedicated to ensuring that the Internet is a public resource that remains open and accessible to all."

Chiding "some cellular phone providers" who prevent their phones from loading unapproved but "legitimately obtained software," Anderson contends that forcing a user to jailbreak their phone to install software "distributed outside the carrier or phone vendor's store" has a "chilling effect on users and on innovation."

From Anderson's point of view, since smartphones are increasingly used as internet-access devices, locked handsets create a situation in which access to "an open and public resource" - the internet - is "artificially constrained and unnecessarily defined by the hardware vendor."

While these arguments are being made at a lofty, conceptual level, down in the real world of which apps get onto what phones serviced by which carriers, things get decidedly murkier.

Mozilla, for its part, claims to have no interest in developing a browser for the iPhone. The company's CEO, John Lilly, was quoted by Computerworld as saying, "The [iPhone Software] SDK is very clear, that Flash and Firefox and other runtimes are not welcome on the iPhone. Given the choice, would we work on a platform where the sole company controlling it makes us unwelcome, or would we work on a platform, like Linux, where we are welcome? The answer is going to be easy for us."

Lilly is so peeved with Apple's closed approach, it seems, he doesn't want Firefox on the iPhone even if the Copyright Office grants a DMCA exemption over jailbreaking.

So if Mozilla has no plans to develop a browser for the iPhone, are the company's arguments for internet freedom purely idealistic? Possibly - but you'd have to say their reasoning is more forward-looking: Mozilla wants to ensure that it will retain the ability to remain relevant in a future world of proprietary mobile devices.

What of Skype? In an increasingly web-connected smartphone world, Skype could be shut out of offering mobile VoIP if carriers are free to limit apps and services to those that they deem acceptable - and in the cut-throat world of wireless communication, carriers would prefer to keep Skype stuck on landlines.

Apple does allow VOIP apps on the iPhone. Witness, for example Truphone's two App Store downloads, Truphone for iPhone and Truphone for iPod Touch (App Store links). But they can only operate over WiFi - not over cell networks. ®

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