Jailbreaking your iPhone is still legal, your iPad not so much

On July 26, 2010, the Library of Congress ruled that under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), jailbreaking was legal. This was a big deal at the time, as prior to the ruling the legality of jailbreaking was a bit of a mystery.

The decision was part of a list of DMCA exemptions, which unfortunately just expired. So the Library announced a new batch of exemptions today. And although jailbreaking is still legal, it appears there are some significant caveats…

To be clear, jailbreaking was never illegal per se. There was just some uncertainty on whether or not Apple could take legal action against jailbreakers if it ever decided to. But today’s decision makes it clear: jailbreaking is not illegal.

At least on iPhones, anyway. The Register of Copyrights, who is responsible for determining DMCA exemptions, felt that the term “tablet” was too broad to rule on. So unfortunately the iPad was not included in this year’s list of exemptions.

“On the other hand, the Register concluded that the record did not support an extension of the exemption to “tablet” devices. The Register found significant merit to the opposition’s concerns that this aspect of the proposed class was broad and ill-defined, as a wide range of devices might be considered “tablets,” notwithstanding the significant distinctions among them in terms of the way they operate, their intended purposes, and the nature of the applications they can accommodate. For example, an ebook reading device might be considered a “tablet,” as might a handheld video game device or a laptop computer.”

The act of unlocking smartphones was also excluded from the new exemptions list. After 6 years of permitting users to unlock their handsets to take to other carriers, the Librarian of Congress decided that it was time to move on.

Why the sudden change? According to the filing, the Register is updating the policy “to align it with today’s market realities.” It believes that carriers are now much more liberal with their unlocking policies, and there is no longer a need to intervene. But don’t worry, all handsets purchased before January of 2013 will be covered under the previous exemption.

To be honest, this doesn’t really change anything in the jailbreak community. We’re not experts or anything, but it seems illogical that it’s legal to jailbreak the iPhone, but not the iPad, and we’re guessing this wouldn’t hold water in most court rooms. And as far as unlocking, they’re right. Getting your carrier or a third-party vendor to unlock your handset is much easier nowadays than it was one or two years ago. So there’s really no reason to perform any kind of software unlock.

If you’re interested in reading through the entire document, you can find it here. And be sure to let us know what you think of the new ruling down in the comments.