Current Legal Status of “Jailbreaking”

by RyanD on April 25, 2013


As a form of “privilege escalation”, jailbreaking allows the owner of an iOS-based device to break their software out of “jail”, therefore enabling previously disabled contents while still allowing full access to things like iTunes and the App store. With little more than a free piece of jailbreaking software, a simple iOS backup, a USB cable, and five minutes of free time, just about anyone can jailbreak an iOS based device. But while removing various limitations on your iOS devices will certainly allow you to enable dozens of new extensions and applications, will jailbreaking land you in jail?


Unlocking in the USA
It should come as no surprise to learn that the legality of jailbreaking depends on where you live. While the United States Copyright Office as well as the Library of Congress possess the authority to exempt certain types of activities from the influence of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and there currently exists and exemption for certain jailbreak activities, that exemption is limited and likely tenuous.

In the simplest terms this means that while doing a jailbreak is perfectly legal in many cases, it’s still strictly illegal to do so with most tablets or cellphones. According to the Library of Congress, the only exception to this ruling applies to smartphones which were purchased before January 26th, 2013. While carriers are still able to legally unlock devices on your behalf, going to a third party is illegal.


The DMCA for Dummies
The DMCA seeks to protect intellectual property rights by fighting against anything that seeks to circumvent protections (like DRM) and allow access to copyrighted content. While the DMCA has had a fairly ubiquitous impact on the internet since it took effect in 1998, its application to technologies that have only developed recently (like tablets and smartphones) has been easier for both users and developers to shirk.

Jailbreaking an iPhone, for instance, is still legal through 2015 due to a recently granted exemption to the DMCA; but such protections do not extend to other Apple devices like the iPad.


Unlocking Illegally
While doing a jailbreak on iOS based tablet devices may be illegal, those facing the threat of legal action are less likely to be consumers than businesses that unlock devices. This is partially because of the massive gap between the associated fines between civil and criminal cases. Although a person faced with a civil suit may endure a maximum fine of $2,500 per phone, criminal cases against those who unlock phones for commercial purposes can lead to judgments of up to half a million dollars or five years in prison.


Jailbreaks Abroad
But what about everyone who lives outside the US? According to European Union directives, jailbreaks are legal as long as they’re not carried out for the specific intent of breaking copyright law. Essentially this means that you’re allowed to do whatever you want to your device as long as you don’t use the jailbreak as an avenue for piracy.


Words of Warning
Before you leap into a do it yourself jailbreak, be warned that legality aside, jailbreaks are a first class ticket to a voided warranty as well as a way to void any purchased after-sales services like insurance. While jailbreaking might not be for the faint of heart, especially if they face potential legal risk, the breaking process itself is relatively low risk.


This article was contributed together with Sheldon Armstrong, a techie who loves writing about the latest in technology. For your tablet, he recommends using a Kensington iPad case, which you can purchase on , as it provides great security without compromising on style.




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