In 2010 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) added an exemption that made modifying copyrighted software legal for the purposes of unlocking phones. At the time, this was targeted at protecting iPhone owners from Apple who was trying to establish a legal precedent for suing its own customers. In any case, the exemption applies to any cell phone, including all Android phones sold in the United States. However, it wasn’t made to last. In fact it’s set to expire later this year. Surely we can’t stand idly by.
Leading the charge is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). They’re petitioning the Copyright Office to make the exemption permanent, while at the same time suggesting an expansion of the definition to “personal computing devices”, so as to include tablets, game consoles, & even PCs. They’re petition is available online and they are collecting signatures as well as personal commentary concerning why you support extending and amending the exemption. If you’re willing to help the cause, make sure you do so by February 10th.
Wait isn’t this about jailbreaking? Isn’t that an iOS thing? So how does this affect Android?
You’re likely thinking that this doesn’t really apply since Android is open source, unlike iOS. The fact is your right, but only partially. You see not all of Android is open source. Specifically, all of Google’s applications, carrier and manufacturer apps, and many Market apps are published as closed source, copyrighted programs. This also includes the lower-level functions that manufacturers add to Android’s code which are copyrighted and in some cases protected by patents. The exemption to the DMCA makes modification to any of those elements legal for the specific purpose of “unlocking” a phone, be it for use on another network or just to use custom software. If the exemption expires, any root or bootloader exploit used to run custom software could technically become illegal. While it would likely be impossible to catch people running the custom software, those who distribute modified code or the instructions for modifying it could easily face civil or criminal charges. Thereby extinguishing Android’s custom ROM community.
So please take a few moments of your time to help the EFF in its efforts to keep phone and tablet modification free and legal in the United States.
*Where the form says “Comment number(s) of proposed classes of works to which you are responding,” enter a “3” if you’re writing about game consoles or a “5” if you’re writing about smartphones or tablets. You might consider also entering a “4” to submit your comments in support of an exemption request proposed by the Software Freedom Law Center to allow jailbreaking of “personal computing devices.”