The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is designed to be reviewed and updated every three years so that definitions of fair use can adapt as quickly as the technology they are regulating, and in the latest round of adjustments and clarifications made to the act, the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights have deemed processes such as the jailbreaking and rooting of smartphones perfectly legal under fair use provided they are not employed to illegally distribute copyrighted material or install pirated software. The exemptions added by the Library of Congress deal with owners of smartphone handsets circumventing protection systems in order to install legal software or to connect to any wireless carrier their phone is compatible with.
Here is the text of the relevant exemptions added to the DMCA:
(2) Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.
(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.
This comes as a true win for members of the development community who tirelessly work away at hacking every new Android phone released. Not that the law was stopping them before, but now those that choose to do so are free to root their handsets without any fear of legal ramifications. While no one has made too much of a fuss over the hacker community revolving around Google’s open-source operating system. the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) has had an ongoing battle with Apple over the legality of jailbreaking their iPhone handsets. Apple contends that jailbreaking weakens and violates the copy protection designed to preserve copyrighted aspects of iPhone software. The EFF on the other hand sees such modifications to stock software and hardware as part of the fair use rights an owner obtains when purchasing such a smartphone, and the Library of Congress has agreed with the latest changes to the DMCA.
If for some reason fear of the cops busting your door down was the only thing keeping you from rooting your Android phone, fear no more and get to rooting with the spirit and tenaciousness of any law-abiding American.