The Electronic Frontier Foundation is petitioning to renew a US Copyright Office ruling that makes smartphone jailbreaking explicitly legal. In 2010, the Office added an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allowing users to modify phone firmware to run software that's not approved by the manufacturer. Since exemptions only last three years, however, the ruling must be renewed over the coming months; the EFF is also adding protection for tablets to the new exemption. The Copyright Office is currently taking public comments on the proposed rules.
If the exemption fails, jailbreaking won't become illegal, but it will fall into an untested gray area of copyright law. Before the original ruling, Apple argued that because its phones used a form of copy protection, jailbreaking them to run other applications ran afoul of Section 1201 of the DMCA, which is meant to outlaw breaking or reverse-engineering DRM. However, since Apple never took legal action against jailbreakers, this claim was never put to the test. Currently, jailbreaking an Apple product voids its warranty, but the practice is still extremely popular — when the latest version of a well-known iOS jailbreaking tool was released, it was used on nearly a million phones and tablets within three days.
This jailbreaking exemption is hardly the only thing being proposed this year by consumer advocates. Public Knowledge is also hoping to get legal sanction for DVD ripping, which is currently allowed only for specific purposes like copying short clips to use in documentary films. Because copying a DVD involves breaking copy protection, even making a backup or transferring it to watch on a phone or tablet isn't explicitly legal without an exemption. The comment period for all exemptions ends on February 10.