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U.S. Copyright Office may make circumventing DRM (jailbreaking) for repair purposes legal... sort of

The original jailbreaking tool. (Image via CultOfMac)
The original jailbreaking tool. (Image via CultOfMac)
A list of proposed rules put out by the U.S. Copyright Office would make jailbreaking devices like smartphones and smart speakers completely legal, if adopted. Jailbreaking, or circumventing DRM, is currently in a legally grey area. If these rules are implemented, then people could create their own tools to jailbreak a device for repair purposes. However, jailbreaking tools could not be distributed under these rules.

The Right to Repair movement has been thrust under the spotlight in recent months, especially as companies like Apple have made moves to make “non-authorized” repair technicians (i.e., non-Apple employees/services) illegal. However, the U.S. Copyright Office may have thrown a lifesaver to proponents of Right to Repair. The office has proposed new rules that would justify the circumvention of DRM in order to repair a device.

To put it in more widely used terms, jailbreaking for repair purposes would be solidly legal. Bypassing DRM measures, or jailbreaking, has long been in a legally gray area. Some companies, like Apple, have tried to outlaw jailbreaking by using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These companies claimed that jailbreaking violated copyright law and should not be allowed. While those claims have largely been shot down, they continue to pop up from time to time.

The Copyright Office’s proposed rules would add a slew of devices to the DMCA exception list, including smartphones, smart speakers, and others. But there is a caveat.

While users can develop their own tools and software to circumvent the DRM of their own devices, they cannot distribute these tools to others. The way that the Copyright Office has worded its proposed rules implies that if you use a tool that you found to jailbreak a device, you wouldn’t be punished. Rather, the distributor of that tool would be subject to punitive measures.

The Copyright Office also specifically left “game consoles, set-top boxes, DVD and Blu-Ray players, and similar devices that typically are operated using buttons.” The Office feels that allowing the jailbreaking of these devices could lead to piracy.

These rules, if adopted, would be a definite step in the right direction. People could finally jailbreak their smartphones and other small electronics without worrying about punishment from the OEM. They’ll just need to make/find the proper tool on their own and won’t be able to give them away to other people. But, as a commenter on Liliputing said, “I can’t sell you a crowbar, but I’ll leave one outdoors under the mailbox.”

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2018 10 > U.S. Copyright Office may make circumventing DRM (jailbreaking) for repair purposes legal... sort of
Sam Medley, 2018-10-26 (Update: 2018-10-26)
Sam Medley
Sam Medley - Review Editor - @samuel_medley
I've been a "tech-head" my entire life. After graduating college with a degree in Mathematics, I worked in finance and banking a few years before taking a job as a Systems Analyst for my local school district. I started working with Notebookcheck in October of 2016 and have enjoyed writing news articles and notebook reviews. My areas of interest include the business side of technology, retro gaming, Linux, and innovative gadgets. When I'm not hunched over an electronic device or writing code for a new database, I'm either outside with my family, playing a decade-old video game, or sitting behind a drum set.