New DMCA exemptions are going to make iPad and tablet jailbreaking/rooting illegal, starting next Sunday. Further updates will make it illegal to unlock phones and SIM cards purchased after January 26 of 2013.
Users of iOS products such as the iPhone and iPad have long enjoyed the privilege of legally 'Jailbreaking' the devices. The jailbreaking process grants users root access to the device in question, enabling them to run applications unapproved by Apple, and to use various customizations such as themes and UI modifications.
In July of 2010, a Digital Millennium Copyright Act exception was approved, officially legalizing the procedure. Such exemptions are granted by the U.S. Librarian of Congress when it believes that users are ultimately harmed when forbidden to engage in non-infringing activities. In 2010, it clearly believed that this was the case, to the chagrin of Apple.
iPad, displaying "Cydia", jailbroken app/tweak repository (image by The iPad Guide)
But this year, under advisement from the U.S Copyright Office, renewed exemptions to the DMCA will prevent users from jailbreaking or rooting tablet devices. All tablets, including the Apple iPad, will be affected by the new exemptions.
These new alterations follow a complaint to the Copyright Office by the Business Software Alliance (BSA). This July, the BSA argued to the Copyright Office that jailbreaking leads to piracy.
“Jailbreaking enables the installation and execution of pirated — i.e., unlicensed — apps on a mobile device," the BSA wrote. "So there is a direct link between piracy and the circumvention of TPMs [technological protection measures], — jailbreaking is the precondition for making pirated apps valuable."
Digital rights advocacy group EEF (The Electronic Frontier Foundation) argued against this reasoning in its own letter to the Copyright Office.
"There are many legitimate, non-infringing reasons why a user might choose to jailbreak or root a device. These reasons range from installing non-infringing applications that happen to be unapproved by the device's vendor, to customizing a device's appearance, to transforming a phone into a flashlight."
But in an odd and confusing twist, the new exemptions which prevent users from rooting tablets do not prevent them from rooting phones. So, jailbreaking the iPhone will not be illegal.
The reason that tablets are receiving the prohibition, and phones are not, arises from ambiguity over the term 'tablet'. Tablets apparently constitute a broad and poorly defined class of devices with, according to the Copyright Office, "significant distinctions among them in terms of the way they operate, their intended purposes, and the nature of the applications they can accommodate."
Of additional relevance is the effects of new exemptions on 'unlocking'. Phone owners will not legally be able to alter their phones or SIM cards purchased after January 26, 2013 in order to make them compatible with other networks.
Anybody in the U.S using nonofficial apps on their jailbroken iPads will have to be willing to kiss them good bye on Sunday of next week, when the new exemptions take effect.