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7/26/2010
08:39 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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The End of Closed iPhones?

Go ahead and pick the iPhone's digital lock. The U.S. Copyright Office says that's okay. In a surprise decision, the Copyright Office granted the Electronic Frontier Foundations' request for three exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anticircumvention provisions.

Go ahead and pick the iPhone's digital lock. The U.S. Copyright Office says that's okay. In a surprise decision, the Copyright Office granted the Electronic Frontier Foundations' request for three exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anticircumvention provisions.The DMCA makes it a crime to circumvent digital locks to infringe copyrights. Under the DMCA, anyone "jailbreaking" an iPhone to install software not approved by Apple ran the risk of a potentially ruinous copyright infringement lawsuit.

Thanks to the EFF, iPhone users can now lawfully jailbreak their iPhones to install software of their choosing, use short clips from DVDs to create video remixes, and continue to unlock handsets so that they can be used with different telecommunications carriers (a fair use exemption established in 2009 that has been renewed).

The Copyright Office is not granting users the right to infringe lawful copyrights, by copying iPhone apps for example. Rather it's allowing limited circumvention of DMCA technical protection measures for the sake of interoperability.

Apple considers its closed iPhone ecosystem to be beyond the scope of the Copyright Office's responsibilities. It argued that the EFF's request for a DMCA exemption for jailbreaking amounts "to an attack on Apple's particular business choices with respect to the design of the iPhone mobile computing platform and the strategy for delivering applications software for the iPhone through the iPhone App Store."

Apple argues that "the iPhone is likely one of the greatest success stories in the proliferation of copyrighted creative works in recent memory" and that the EFF has offered no proof that forced openness is a better approach. For Apple, the fact that it's making money on the iPhone validates its business model.

Yet, Apple's argument contains a curious assumption: That legally sanctioned jailbreaking will force it to open its platform.

"In essence, the arguments in EFF's submission require the Copyright Office to go on faith that forcing Apple to move to an iPhone platform that can execute any third party application, regardless of problems that may ensue, will result in a better world," Apple said in its argument against the proposed DMCA exemption for jailbreaking.

Is an open platform so much more appealing than Apple's wildly popular but locked-down approach that the company would have no choice but to rethink how it does business?

It's hard to imagine Apple being forced to do anything. Just because it can no longer win copyright cases against jailbreakers under the DMCA doesn't mean it has to abandon its business model. People will still buy iPhones and they'll still look to Apple and iTunes for operating system updates and apps.

That is, unless Cydia or some as-yet-unreleased third-party iPhone app store competes for the business of iPhone customers and the loyalty of iPhone developers more effectively than Apple can. Unlikely as that sounds, it does seem that Apple is afraid of potential competition.

Surely Apple is only trying to make customers happier by telling them which applications they can run. Surely Apple knows best when it tells developers which programming tools they can use and which applications will be approved for sale.

If the iPhone and the iPhone user experience are as good as Apple believes them to be, Apple has nothing to worry about.

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