What New Library of Congress Rules Mean for Mashups, iPhone Jailbreaking

BY Hari Sreenivasan  July 26, 2010 at 4:57 PM EST

People who own iPhones will now be able to crack electronic locks on them, allowing them to install applications that might not have Apple’s blessing, according to new rules announced Monday by the U.S. government.

The primary source for all this is a ruling from the Library of Congress. View a statement from the Librarian of Congress.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation won a fight against Apple and now you can “jailbreak” your iPhone. There are other exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which could be far more important – here is EFF’s jubilant press release on the matter.

In regards to Apple and app world, it means that you should be able to purchase apps beyond what is available in the iTunes Store, but also that you ought be able to take an iPhone to another network that could and would support it without fear of the feds knocking down your doors for circumvention of access-control technologies.

Apple issued the following statement:

Apple’s goal has always been to insure that our customers have a great experience with their iPhone and we know that jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience. As we’ve said before, the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably.

Let’s take a look at the rest of the new provisions and do some translation of what they mean:

(1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:
(i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
(ii) Documentary filmmaking;
(iii) Noncommercial videos

This means that a college classroom may get more visually interesting. It also means there will inevitably be more more mash-up videos on YouTube pointing out how the music beneath some Ke$ha and Katy Perry songs are eerily the same. Sadly adding video to the critiques is unlikely to change the phenomenon that is pop music.

But it is not all fun and games. According to the Motion Picture Association of America: “The Librarian’s decision unnecessarily blurs the bright line established in the DMCA against circumvention of technical protection measures and undermines the DMCA, which has fostered greater access to more works by more people than at any time in our history.”

Outside Apps

(2) Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.

This refers to the ability to access apps outside of Apple’s App Store.

Seeing Other Carriers

(3) Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.

You can switch cellular carriers — meaning iPhone users can legally leave AT&T (though as they say on the side of the box — certain restrictions may apply).

Gamers Can Crack Encryption

(4) Video games accessible on personal computers and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully obtained works, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities, if:
(i) The information derived from the security testing is used primarily to promote the security of the owner or operator of a computer, computer system, or computer network; and
(ii) The information derived from the security testing is used or maintained in a manner that does not facilitate copyright infringement or a violation of applicable law.

For those who are into “investigating” video games, they can crack the encryption.

Death to Dongles

(5) Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete. A dongle shall be considered obsolete if it is no longer manufactured or if a replacement or repair is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace

If you’ve never had a piece of software that came with a tiny piece of hardware in order to make it work, consider your life better for it.

Reading E-Books Aloud

(6) Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.

This will help people who want to covert e-books into texts that are read to them. It will likely be very important to people who are visually impaired who may be able to magnify the size of text.

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