Library of Congress breaks the iPhone tether

Want to override your iPhone’s system controls? Now there’s an app for that. Thanks to Monday’s Library of Congress ruling allowing the “jailbreaking” of iPhones, users can now legally override Apple’s operating system to allow third party applications. In weighing certain exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the LOC gave four basic “fair use” arguments for siding with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and against Apple:

1. Jailbreakers are modifying a device they own for private, noncommercial purposes
2. Operating systems customarily enable third party programs and doing so on the iPhone doesn’t infringe on exclusive Apple copyrights
3. The amount of recoding performed during a jailbreak is negligible– 50 bytes of code out of a total of over 8 million
4. Jailbreaking doesn’t devalue Apple’s firmware or iPhones in the marketplace and might even help it by allowing users a wider variety of app choices

The Library of Congress’ explanations confirm what is apparent to most– that Apple’s real reason for exerting absolute control over it’s iPhones and App Store is to strengthen it’s bottom line without regard for what consumers want. Despite a respectful tone, the LOC’s message to Apple is clear: there is no legal basis for this kind of exclusivity, and we won’t do your dirty work by agreeing to this logic.

To put things in perspective, Apple’s reasoning would be the equivalent of Ford demanding that anyone purchasing their cars can only put in parts manufactured or endorsed by Ford for as long as you own the car. If you try to put in some new battery or even a bolt made by some other company, you’re violating their rights.

Perhaps more importantly, the LOC also ruled that cell phone users have the right to switch network providers even when phone manufacturers have a deal granting a network exclusivity. As of this week if you want to take your iPhone and run it on a non-AT&T network, you can legally do so as long as you override the phone’s controls and find a network to provide the phone with service.

While it’s unlikely that many users will go to great lengths to make such a switch, the ruling could limit phone manufacturers’ ability to cut lucrative exclusivity deals in the future. With such exclusivity not being legally enforceable, any deal would be more practical than absolute.