Apple tells Copyright Office Jailbreaking iPhone is Illegal; Mozilla & Skype Support EFF’s Request for an Exemption to the DMCA

For the 2009 rulemaking, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed an exemption request with the U.S. Copyright Office to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) related to iPhone jailbreaking which allows iPhone owners to install iPhone apps that have not been approved on the App Store (due to various reasons).

Things have just got more interesting as Mozilla, Skype and Cydia have added their support behind EFF's push to get the U.S. Copyright Office to grant DMCA exception so users can jailbreak their iPhone without fear of copyright infringement penalties.

Apple had recently told the U.S. Copyright Office that it believes jailbreaking an iPhone is a violation of the DMCA and infringes on its copyright. Apple also informed the Copyright Office that the exception request by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was not acceptable as the very act of jailbreaking the iPhone results in copyright infringement.

As per Apple the current method of jailbreaking the iPhone uses unauthorized modifications to the copyrighted bootloader and OS, resulting in the infringement of the copyrights in those programs.

EFF's argument is that jailbreaking iPhone is protected under fair-use doctrines, and that the Copyright Office should grant an exemption because "the culture of tinkering (or hacking, if you prefer) is an important part of our innovation economy."

However, Apple disagreed and pointed out that few users of jailbroken iPhones actually used tools (such as PwnageTool and QuickPwn) and did not jailbreak it themselves.

But things just got a lot more interesting as companies such as Mozilla and Skype have just given their support to EEF's exception request.

CEO of Mozilla, John Lilly said in an interview with Computerworld:

"This is not us criticizing Apple,"

"But it's the principle of the thing. Choice is good for users, and choice shouldn't be criminalized. The Internet is too important for all of us for that."

Mozilla's general counsel, Harvey Anderson, wrote in the comments submitted to the Copyright Office:

"Given the choice, would we work on a platform where the sole company controlling it makes us unwelcome, or would we work on a platform, like Linux, where we are welcome? The answer is going to be easy for us,"

Anderson also pointed out that:

"These devices contain Internet Web browser, and are therefore effectively users' doorway to the Internet — a public commons. Consumers should be entitled to use any software program they choose to access the Internet."

The last statement seems to clearly highlights Mozilla's interest in getting a DMCA exemption so that they can release their mobile browser for the jailbroken iPhone. It indicates that Mozilla might be taking the unofficial approach as they feel that their iPhone app will not get approved by Apple as it would be a direct competition to iPhone's Safari browser.

It is also interesting to see Skype adding their voice behind EFF's exemption request. It indicates that they are also planning to launch their iPhone app only for the jailbroken iPhone (and not on the App Store as it was speculated) so that users can make cheap VoIP calls using their iPhone over Wi-Fi as well as their data connection. iPhone's SDK currently restricts VoIP calls only over Wi-Fi network.

Cydia was the other software developer who joined Mozilla and Skype in supporting the EFF's petition. Cydia app is equivalent to the App Store in the iPhone hacking world as it lets users install iPhone applications from any source, rather than just the App Store. In his remarks submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office, Jay Freeman of Saurik, Cydia's developer, said:

"Cydia is now installed on 1.6 million devices worldwide, at least a quarter of which are within the United States."

We will keep you posted on this developing story. Thanks David for the tip!

What do you think about jailbreaking? Do you think Apple is right in making it illegal? Should the Copyright Office accept EFF's request for an exception to the DMCA? It will be great to get your feedback in the comments below.

[via Techmeme]