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Jailbreaking iPhones is Now Officially Legal

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If you aren’t familiar with the term “jailbreak”, this news won’t mean much to you. For those that are fans of hacking phones, this news will come as a welcome relief, and a victory of sorts for smartphone hackers.

As with any new popular piece of electronics, the iPhone was quickly hacked. It is standard procedure for those in the “know” to test their computing abilities against the newest and hottest merchandise, and Apple’s smartphone was no exception. In fact, the notoriously finicky app store that Apple retains tight control over made the hacking of the phone a matter of not just “if” someone would hack it, but more who could hack it first.

Soon, software patches that would “jailbreak”- or hack the device – could be found easily enough on the Internet. Once a phone has gone through the jailbreak process, it can then accept apps for the phone that Apple has not approved. The act of releasing and using jailbreak software has been legally murky, to say the least. The previous copyright laws allowed Apple to request a fine of up to $2,500 for each instance under the law that prohibits “circumvention of technological measures” that guarded copyright materials – although it does not appear that Apple ever made good on that legal threat. The new exemptions remove that fine altogether.  The same applies to the iPad, which uses the same iOS software.

Under the recently released exemptions, those who jailbreak a phone will not be subject to any legal penalties. Apple could (and will) still immediately void the warranty on any phones they can prove have been hacked, and the iOS will likely receive a few upgrades to make it as difficult as possible to jailbreak the phone, but users will no longer have to worry about the legal aspects of using a hacked phone.

CNN is reporting that the Copyright Office also granted a handful of exemptions, and renewed an existing exemption from 2006 that allows users to jailbreak their phones in order to switch carriers. The new exemption clears up a few gray areas regarding unlocking cell phones; where before it was said to be through firmware only, now software hacks can also be used to unlock cell phones. This might be bad news for AT&T, as iPhone users frequently cite their coverage as the greatest complaint they have with their iPhones.

A poll conducted last year by iPhone Freak claimed that 8.43-percent of all iPhone users had jailbroken their phones, and further suggested that the number is higher, but many were unwilling to admit it. This figure does not differentiate between hacks that allow unauthorized apps, and phones that have been unlocked from the carrier. Now that the means to do both is officially legal, that number could rise.

On the other hand, people who were looking to hack the iPhone have had the tools for years now, and while it isn’t difficult to find the software and jailbreak a phone, it can be an intimidating prospect for people that are not well versed in computer software. Whether or not the legalities of it will encourage others to give it a try remains to be seen.

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