Jailbreaking Dongle Freedom! iPhone Users, DVD Copiers Oppressed No More!


Have you ever wanted to play video games that Apple didn’t sell on your iPhone?

Have you ever wanted to use apps that Apple didn’t sell on your iPhone?

Have you ever wanted to switch carriers with your iPhone (because AT&T blows)?

Have you ever wanted to copy a copy-protected DVD?

Have you ever wanted to get that Dongle away from your iPhone?

Well, get this: Now, you can!

The U.S. Copyright Office ruled on Monday that it is now not a violation of U.S. Copyright Law to do any of those things! [Also: A “Dongle” is not your penis. It’s an “external security device.”] Which is awesome! The AP reports that the ruling will, legally speaking:

— allow owners of used cell phones to break access controls on their phones in order to switch wireless carriers.

— allow people to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws.

— allow college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos.

— allow computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called dongles if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced.

Some of the exact wording on the big one, which is regarding switching cellular carriers:

(3) Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.

Why would people want to “jailbreak” their phone? Because they own it, and they want to use it in a way that doesn’t require giving Apple more money or the ability to censor things (which downloading new programs from their App Store does, every time). When you “Jailbreak” your phone, you can put whatever you want on it. And now, it’s not against the law to do so.

Unfortunately, just because it’s not against the law doesn’t mean it’s not against Apple’s rules for owning an iPhone. For example, if anything happens to your iPhone trying to “jailbreak” it with an app you can download from the Internet, Apple claims that they’re not responsible for what happens to your phone if you do.

This is like Vinny The Collections Agent telling you that he’s “not responsible” for what happens if you don’t pay him his protection money. If your face gets smashed in, well, sorry. Sometimes, it happens when you don’t pay Vinny. Apple’s version of this is having your iPhone — that you own — becoming “bricked” or unusable if it detects that you were trying to do something to it Apple didn’t want you to do with it. This is legal because they’re selling you their product, and technically, they can tell you how to use it. But categorically, this is a monopolistic practice on Apple’s part. Why would they want to do it?

Well, any number of reasons, but mostly, to keep money coming to them. If everyone uses the App Store on iTunes for apps — with Apple’s standards, which include an admitted moralist agenda (which helps bring family-friendly companies’ and consumers’ money to Apple) — what follows is every business wanting to work with that App Store to get their product in front of more people.

Essentially, by buying into Apple, you assert their dominance over what you get to do with their products, unless you’re one of the few and proud who Jailbreak (instructions for which you can find at any number of tech sites, like Gizmodo or Engadget). Also, you condone a company who exploits consumers by releasing a not-entirely-working product onto an unsuspecting, gadget-addicted public and you contribute to the Congolese rape and bloodshed in war over conflict minerals, but that’s a different story.

[Full Disclosure: I own an iPhone. And I don’t like doing so.]