The Electronic Frontier Foundation this week reached out to members of the public, asking them to help protect the act of jailbreaking, in which users can hack their iPhone or iPad to run unauthorized code. Up until now, jailbreaking has been legal through exemptions in the DMCA, but that exemption is set to expire this year.
"The DMCA is supposed to block copyright infringement, but it's been misused to threaten tinkerers and users who just want to make their devices more secure and more functional," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The U.S. Copyright Office should hear from concerned Americans who want to run software of their choice on the gadgets of their choice."
The EFF helped to ensure that jailbreaking was granted an exemption in the DMCA in 2010, but this year the group wants to expand it to specifically cover tablets and videogame systems through its "Jailbreaking is Not a Crime" campaign at jailbreakingisnotacrime.org.
The term jailbreaking usually refers to hacking Apple's iOS devices in order to run software not approved by Apple. But the EFF's campaign uses jailbreaking as a blanket term for hacking all devices, regardless of platform.
Every few years, the Library of Congress' Copyright Office authorizes exemptions to ensure existing law does not prevent non-infringing use of copyrighted material. Two years ago, the office officially ruled that jailbreaking is an acceptable practice, though it still voids Apple's product warranties.
Through jailbreaking, hackers have created their own custom applications which are available from an alternative storefront known as Cydia, similar to Apple's official App Store for iOS. There are many free and paid applications available on Cydia that allow users to install custom tweaks, user interface themes and various pieces of software that does not comply with Apple's iOS developer agreement.
While jailbreaking itself is not illegal, the process can be used to pirate software from the App Store, which is against the law. Concern over piracy is one of the main reasons Apple has fought the practice of jailbreaking.
To keep jailbreaking legal, the EFF has asked that supporters sign a letter written by author and hacker Andrew "bunnie" Huang, an MIT graduate who wrote the 2003 book "Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering." Huang's letter advocates for expanded jailbreaking exemptions to protect "security researchers and other tinkerers and innovators."