iPhone jailbreaking legalised in USThird party apps on iPhones for US customers

26 July 2010

Apple iPhone 4

US iPhone owners are now able to hack their handsets to accept legally obtained third-party software not approved by Apple, in the process known as 'jailbreaking'.

This news follows a ruling made today by the US Library of Congress' Copyright Office.

What is iPhone jailbreaking?

Jailbreaking allows iPhone owners to install applications (apps) downloaded from outlets other than Apple's iTunes Store. Apple has previously argued that this can lead to instability and disruption of service.

Apple iPhones running the official Apple iOS operating system can currently only run apps approved by Apple and distributed via iTunes.

In addition to legalising the jailbreaking of mobile phone handsets, the announcement specified that in the the US it will be legal to hack phones to make them work on other phone networks.

Other mobile phones affected

As well as the Apple iPhone, which is tied to the iTunes App Store, the ruling also affects other phone handsets such as those running Google's Android operating system (OS).

Ben Stevens, Which? technology expert, said: 'iPhone owners who jailbreak their iPhones are still likely to void their Apple warranty, and jailbroken handsets are also probably going to miss any official iPhone software upgrades that Apple releases'.

Librarian of Congress DMCA statement

Every three years, the US Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office discuss the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that was drawn up in 1998. Today's announcement marks the fourth set of variations to the Act.

In its statement the Librarian of Congress states that people who bypass access restrictions, in the six areas outlined in the statement, will not be breaking the law.

Ben Stevens said: 'The iPhone has only been with us for three years so the last time these laws were revised the handset was in its infancy. So while there's never been a law suggesting that iPhone jailbreaking is illegal, it has been frowned upon, as the reasons for jailbreaking an iPhone are usually to download illegal files, such as unpaid for films or music, and even apps. As apps are a major revenue stream for Apple, the company has always been against iPhone jailbreaking'.

UK consumers should note that these changes in law apply only in the US.

DVD and ebook protection

DVD copying and ebooks were also among the six areas affected by the statement.

US Citizens will now also be able to take excerpts from copy-protected DVDs for educational purposes, documentary filmmaking or to create non-commercial videos for online video sites such as YouTube.

The law change also means that users can legally circumvent copy protection on ebooks for the purpose of using 'read aloud' features, which may have been disabled in the ebooks in their originally purchased form.

For help finding the best ebook reader for you, check out our ebook reader reviews

How to follow the latest Which? Tech news

Are you a Twitter user? Follow WhichTech on Twitter for regular tech tweets.

Prefer RSS? Don't miss a thing with the Which? tech RSS feed

For just the main headlines in newsletter form, sign-up to our weekly Which? tech email.

Apple iPad 2 3G data plans compared - find the best 3G plan for your iPad
Best Android tablets round-up - we look at the best iPad alternatives around
Best cheap laptops for under £500 - find the best laptop deals