Jailbreaking Mobile Phones Legalized by Feds

Hackers Jailbreaking their iPhones or other mobile devices are not doing so in violation of federal copyright law according to a ruling made by the U.S. Copyright Office on Monday.

The decision says that bypassing a manufacturer’s block in order to allow “handsets to execute software applications” will not be viewed as illegal, meaning that users can now download third- party applications  that aren’t approved by the phone maker or carrier without fear of legal retribution.

The practice has been criticized by manufacturers who say that jailbreaking destabilizes the phones, and Apple, the manufacturer with devices most prevalently jailbroken, contends that the strict vetting process by which apps are approved in the official App Store results in the promotion of higher-quality apps.

However, a relatively small yet sophisticated group of the mobile company’s customers have been hacking the phones enthusiastically, heralding benefits such as increased customization, unlimited 3G service and the ability to turn one’s phone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot that can be used for tethering. Additionally, jailbreaking provides a path for “unlocking” the device, allowing users to operate the phones with carriers other than the one specifically intended for the phone.

According to CNET, by February 2009 400,000 U.S. iPhone users had jailbroken their phones—a relatively small group when set beside the total number of iPhone users in the U.S. (6.4 million in June 2009). Despite the number of jailbroken phones Apple has never sued for terms of use violations.

Bypassing the Apple protection mechanism can void the manufacturer’s warranty, but jailbreakers can easily skate the void by performing a hard reset on their devices before taking them in. However, there are other risks, and anyone considering the jailbreak ought to read up on it before embarking.

As of the time of this writing Apple has not commented as to whether it will sue the Feds to controvert the decision.

In the spirit of the fresh legality, though, here is a good site with jailbreak instructions for the latest iOS4.