On Monday July 26 the U.S. Library of Congress reached a groundbreaking decision concerning modern copyright laws and thrilling open source advocates the world over. The decision ruled that it was now legal to “jailbreak” a mobile phone. Or, in more vernacularized terminology, it is now legal to open up a phone’s controls to accommodate software that the phone maker had not previously authorized.
The ruling is the result of lobbying by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group who had argued for these “exemptions” to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for several years. Enacted in 1998, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is a law which specifically extends copyright laws in the US to protect intellectual property and prevent copyright infringement on the Internet.
But what are the implications of the ruling? This decision opens up a huge debate about the differences between hardware and software and the way modern users will approach each as they apply to smartphones. As smartphone adoption and the numbers of application developers continue to rise, it is highly possible that users may begin to regard smartphone services and applications as they regard wifi, music and computer software: as something that should be free, and something that should be easy to share. Could it be that in the future hardware will continue to be something that you buy and invest in, but that software is destined to be free?
The ruling has been widely projected on Apple and its dominantly successful iPhone. As the New York Times wrote in its July 26th article covering the decision, “The issue has been a topic of debate between Apple, which says it has the right to control the software on its devices, and technically adept users who want to customize their phones as they see fit.” Apparently, Apple’s arguments with the US Copyright Office in the past claimed that jailbreaking phones would infringe on Apple’s copyrights by using an altered version of Apple’s OS.
However, hackers should be forewarned that this may not prove to be the complete ‘get out of jail free’ card that they are envisioning. Some mobile phone manufacturers, such as Apple, have countered by threatening that phone warranties will not be honored once a phone has been “jailbroken.”
What do you think of the ruling? Is this the newest banner issue for the open source movement? Do you think of hardware and software separately in this regard?