By ERIN ALLEN
When Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) Section 1201 rules for exemptions regarding circumvention of access-control technologies on July 26, iPhone users and techies rejoiced. (See story on page 215.) One of the exemptions allows cell-phone users to unlock their mobile devices to run applications not approved by phone manufacturers and break access controls on their phones to switch carriers. News stories were notably iPhone-centric, calling attention to the “jailbreak” of the Apple device.
“For iPhone jailbreakers, the new rules effectively legitimize a practice that has been operating in a legal gray area by exempting it from liability,” said Joelle Tessler of the Associated Press.
Also running Tessler’s story were The New York Times, The Virginian-Pilot, the Monterey County Herald, the Lowell Sun, the Lewiston Morning Tribune, Investor’s Business Daily, the Portland Press Herald and The Boston Globe.
Laura Sydell explained some of the exemptions on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She discussed jailbreaking the iPhone and being able to operate the phones of one’s choosing on the mobile carriers of one’s choosing. She also discussed the exemption on cracking the codes on DVDs.
“Very significantly, they ruled that documentary filmmakers, teachers and students can crack the code on a DVD that would normally lock it and keep you from copying it,” she said. “And they can take a section and use it in a documentary or in some kind of education material.”
A couple of weeks later, Harvard University’s Lawrence Lessig was featuring on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” discussing the ruling.
“It’s [the ruling is] the first time that the Library of Congress, expressing the view of the register of copyrights, has really began to cut back on an extreme push that has happened in the law to lock down how people use their technology or get access to culture.”
Agence France Presse interviewed Jenifer Granick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said, “The Copyright Office recognizes that the primary purpose of the locks on cell phones is to bind customers to their existing networks, rather than to protect copyrights.”
According to Washington Post reporter Jenna Wortham, an underground network of forums that walk iPhone users through the jailbreaking process has flourished online, as have stores that sell the unapproved applications.
Cecilia Kang, The Washington Post’s technology reporter, noted a statement given by Apple: “As we’ve said before, the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not reliable.”
According to Mark Milian of The Los Angeles Times, jailbreaking has been fairly commonplace. “T-Mobile USA had activated so many iPhones that the wireless provider began offering technical support for the device.”
“To be clear, the Library of Congress is exempting these activities, but in no way compelling Apple, AT&T or anyone else to accept them,” said Lance Ulanoff of PC Magazine. “However, these government-sanctioned exemptions could give consumers and companies cover to go after Apple, AT&T and others when they feel responses to jail-breaking activities are in some way harming them or their businesses.”
Other national outlets running the news were Bloomberg, UPI, CNN, Library Journal, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, Newsday, the International Herald Tribune and USA Today.
The announcement also made news across the globe, including in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as well as stateside in California, North Dakota, Colorado, Maryland, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and New Mexico.
A variety of websites and blogs ran posts on the ruling, including gizmodo.com, readwriteweb, Mashable, CNET.com, SFist, Techdirt, Wireless and Mobile News, Wonkette and wired.com.
One of the exemptions includes allowances for people who are visually impaired to break locks on electronic books so that they can use them with read-aloud software or similar aids.
The ruling is in keeping with the Library’s goal of promoting literacy. Another way the Library is promoting literacy, particularly with children, is through a new ad campaign featuring the beloved character Curious George. (See story on page 226.) The ads are intended to encourage parents to read with their children.
The campaign made a small splash in the news with a few large outlets, including School Library Journal and The New York Times.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the
Library’s Office of Communications.