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USCO: Jailbreaking iPhone Legal But Not iPads, DVD Ripping Still Mostly Illegal

Posted by: , 14:49 AEDT, Sun October 28, 2012

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US Copyright Office issues new, and revokes some, exemptions to current copyright laws, once again highlighting the arbitrary nature of copyright exemptions
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Despite a strong lobbying effort by consumer interest groups such as Public Knowledge, DVD ripping and game console hacking remains largely illegal.

As part of its 3-year review into copyright laws and the DMCA as it pertains to public interest, the Library of Congress has the power to issue exemptions to copyright law to protect fair use.

For this review, the Librarians have decided to keep the jailbreaking of smartphones legal to ensure the interoperability of legally obtained software. 

In another major change, several new exceptions have been added to allow the ripping of DVDs, but only if the use falls under a very narrow set of conditions.

But the results of the review also highlights the quirky and sometimes arbitrary nature of fair use exemptions.

For example, while jailbreaking for iPhones remain legal, jailbreaking for iPads and other "tablets" remain illegal, despite both types of devices requiring the same level of interoperability. The reason the Librarians give is that the term "tablet" is currently not well defined enough (for example, an e-book reader may also be considered a tablet, or even a laptop computer), and so the exemption cannot be extended from smartphones to these types of devices.

For DVD ripping, the rules are even more complicated. Only "short portions" of content can be obtained from ripping DVDs, and then only for non commercial purposes, use in documentary films, and for analysis and film studies in educational environments. "Space-shifting", the process of ripping and converting legally purchased movies to play on devices that do not have DVD or Blu-ray drives, remains illegal as the Library found no evidence that courts have sided with the fair use case when these matters have been examined.

Bad news for gamers, as jailbreaking of video game consoles remains illegal. But good news for the disabled in relation to e-book access, as DRM ripping is now perfectly legal, even in cases where DRM-free versions of the e-book is available.

While on the whole the exemptions have been extended, some things also went backwards. It will now be illegal to unlock your phone for another carrier for any phone purchased after January 2013. The Library argues that the prevalence and ease of unlocking phones today means there's no longer a need to have a specific exemption for this act.


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