Jailbreaking your iPhone in the US will continue to be legal after the Library of Congress renewed its exemption, but doing the same to your iPad or other tablets will be illegal.

iPhone Jailbreaking remains legal in the US
iPhone jailbreaking remains legal in the US

As part of its three-year review, the US Library of Congress has made a number changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which forbids consumers from trying to break security controls intended to thwart piracy and copyright violations.

The Library of Congress acts on recommendations from the US Copyright Office and, back in 2010 during its last review, it ruled that jailbreaking was legal. In it's latest review, the Library of Congress has ruled that jailbreaking the iPhone is still legal, but jailbreaking an iPad or other tablets is illegal.

Jailbreaking or modifying an iOS device opens up the software of an iPhone or iPad and lets the user install a huge range of applications that are not available from, or approved by, Apple

There had been a number of groups advocating a change in the law regarding jailbreaking iPhones, including the Business Software Alliance, of which Apple is a member. In a letter sent to the Copyright Office back in July, it said:

"Jailbreaking enables the installation and execution of pirated - ie, unlicensed - apps on a mobile device. So there is a direct link between piracy and the circumvention of TPMs [technological protection measures], - jailbreaking is the precondition for making pirated apps valuable."

On the other side of the argument was the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argued there were a lot of reasons why somone would legally want to jailbreak their phone:

"There are many legitimate, non-infringing reasons why a user might choose to jailbreak or root a device. These reasons range from installing non-infringing applications that happen to be unapproved by the device's vendor, to customising a device's appearance, to transforming a phone into a flashlight."

In the Library of Congress' latest review, however, it makes a clear distinction between phones and tablets:

"[The exemption] permits the circumvention of computer programs on mobile phones to enable interoperability of non-vendor- approved software applications (often referred to as "jailbreaking"), but does not apply to tablets - as had been requested by proponents - because the record did not support it."

In other words, the existing exemptions to the DMCA allow you to jailbreak your iPhone but not your iPad or any other tablet. The reasion the Libary of Congress gives for this, is that tablets are a much more loosely defined group of products:

"[There are] significant distinctions among them [tablets] in terms of the way they operate, their intended purposes, and the nature of the applications they can accommodate. For example, an ebook reading device might be considered a "tablet," as might a handheld video game device or a laptop computer. "

Unlocking phones

Another major change to the Act says that phones bought before 23 January, 2013 can be unlocked, while those purchased after the proposed date will need carrier's permission for unlocking. In both its 2006 and 2010 reviews the Library of Congress alllowed users to legally unlock phones bought on one network to use them on another, withouth needing a network's permission. This will no longer be the case.

The new exemptions will take effect from 28 October but will include a 90-day transition period to allow unlocking by those who may acquire phones shortly after the new exemption goes into effect. meaning 26 January, 2013 would seem to be the cut off date.

Those in favour of keeping the exemption in place said that locking down phones would drive handset prices higher, but the Wireless Association (CTIA), who objected to keeping the exemption in place, maintaining that it was not necessary because:

"The largest nationwide carriers have liberal, publicly available unlocking policies," and because unlocked phones are "freely available from third party providers - many at low prices."