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There is something deeply exasperating about the debate, spotlighted Thursday, about whether unlocking an iPhone violates Apple’s copyright on the cellphone’s software. There’s a real issue at stake, but it isn’t fundamentally about copyrights.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a filing with the Copyright Office, argues that the government should allow iPhone owners to circumvent technical barriers meant to keep them from changing the phone’s software, a process called jailbreaking. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act bans people from defeating technical protections for copyrighted materials (such as the encryption on DVDs). The act requires the government to consider exemptions to this ban every three years.
Apple, not surprisingly, filed an objection, saying that jailbreaking a phone indeed violates copyright law and that no exception should be granted.
One of the key legal arguments is whether installing software on an iPhone that is not sold through Apple’s iTunes store is an infringement of Apple’s copyright. The E.F.F. argues that it does not and that Apple’s motivation is simply to preserve its revenue from software sales.