Apple loses a bit of its grip in iPhone ruling

Written by New York Times | Updated: Jul 29 2010, 05:21am hrs
Apple likes to maintain tight control over what programs can appear on the iPhone a task that just became a little bit harder. The Library of Congress, which has the power to define exceptions to an important copyright law, said on Monday that it was legal to bypass a phones controls on what software it would run to get 'lawfully obtained' programs to work.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, had asked for that exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow the so-called jailbreaking of iPhones and other devices.

This is a really important victory for iPhone owners, said Corynne McSherry, a senior staff lawyer with the foundation. People who want to tinker with their phones and move outside of the Applesphere, now have the ability to legally do that.

The issue has been a topic of debate between Apple, which says it has the right to control the software on its devices, and technically adept users who want to customise their phones as they see fit. In a legal filing last year with the United States Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress, Apple argued that altered phones infringed on its copyrights because they used modified versions of Apples operating system. Apple also said that altering the phones encouraged the pirating of applications, exposed iPhones to security risks and taxed the companys customer support staff.

Apples goal has always been to ensure that our customers have a great experience with their iPhone, and we know that jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience, said Natalie Kerris, a spokeswoman for Apple. As weve 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. But, iPhone hobbyists say they simply want to have free range to use certain features and programs on their phones that Apple has limited or failed to offer.

For example, one popular unapproved application lets users sync their music and video clips with their computer over Wi-Fi, without using a cable.

Another enables tethering, or the ability to share the iPhones Internet connection with a computer, something for which iPhone owners are supposed to pay AT&T an extra $20 a month. An underground network of forums that walk iPhone owners through the jailbreaking process have flourished online, as have storefronts that sell the unapproved applications.

Mario Ciabarra, who operates a software store called Rock Your Phone, said the jailbreaking decision was 'extremely exciting' for application developers. Theres been some negative connotations with the jailbreak community, he said. That legitimacy will go a long way in terms of bolstering our business and the apps business. Ciabarra said he thought that the Library of Congresss decision could increase the appeal of the phone and attract new users who have been turned off by what many perceive as Apples heavy-handed approach to the phone and its application store.