What Jailbreaking/Unlocking DMCA exception means for end users

The Library of Congress' DMCA exception for jailbreaking is big news for our community.  The new ruling basically says that jailbreaking or unlocking devices is not illegal.  But I think the bigger question on most people's minds is what that's going to mean for end users and the jailbreak community in general.  So what does this ruling mean for you, jailbreak ninjas? Read on to find out.

Now we all know the iPhone has its shortcomings. Every smartphone does. In the iPhone world, we jailbreak to compensate. Android users may root their phones to side load apps. We also have a big issue (mainly in the US) where unlocking your phones is frowned upon. Users have cried foul for a long time. Logically, if you buy an iPhone outright in the states, you should be free to take that phone to whatever carrier you'd like. Yet they're still locked down to AT&T for state-side users.

Today's ruling is definitely a step in the right direction and a huge hurdle for groups like EFF, but how it will effect end users right "now" still remains somewhat unclear.  Now keep in mind, as of now, this is strictly my opinion. What I'm taking from this is that Apple or any other phone manufacturer will not be able to sue you or take legal action for jailbreaking or unlocking your device. Does that mean they have to be okay with it or aid you in doing it? Absolutely not.

What about warranties?

In my opinion, I don't think anything will change (as of now). Apple will still have the same stance on modifying your iOS devices and the risks involved.  I can't image it would be hard for apple to play off a software malfunction on user error or the fact that you downloaded an application that was not approved or isn't supported by them.  What if you have a hardware issue?  That should be a little different.  Apple shouldn't be allowed to deny you hardware repairs solely based on the fact that you are jailbroken.  I've read in forums several times that users would attempt to exchange white iPhones for hairline cracks and get turned away because their device was jailbroken.  I'd really like someone at Apple to explain to me how being jailbroken caused a crack in the casing.  Other users have said they swapped their phone just fine.  I'm assuming this probably depends upon what store you go to and how much the genius really pays attention to the phone before performing a swap.  Either way - I don't see this ruling changing the way Apple handles servicing jailbroken or unlocked devices.


Users have long been unlocking devices and taken them to other GSM carriers such as T-Mobile.  If this becomes a common practice, I'm curious to see how carriers will handle that.  Honestly, I don't think they will.  They'll refer you to the manufacturer.  And if that carrier happens to be Apple, if you don't have a valid AT&T SIM, I still think you'll have a hard time getting them to service your phone.

If unlocking becomes a standard practice are users can buy unlocked devices to take to whichever GSM carrier they'd like, then Apple would not have the software argument to hide behind, nor would any manufacturer.  AT&T offers unlock codes to users who have been on contract for a specified period of time for pretty much every device in their lineup, except the most popular ones.  And obviously, that includes the iPhone.

Cat & Mouse

The Dev Team and jailbreaks have long played the cat and mouse game with Apple.  A jailbreak is released, a couple months later, an update to iOS is released, it breaks the jailbreak or patches the exploit.  Jailbreakers go back to the drawing board and find yet another exploit.  And the cycle continues.  I don't see any end to this either.  Apple may not be able to sue you, but they sure don't have to like it or condone it.


So my opinion? I don't think a thing will change for end users, as of right now anyways.  Apple can still choose not to honor warranties, they just can't take legal action, given you aren't using a jailbreak for unlawful purposes.  Around these parts, we fully support the jailbreak community, without supporting those who use it for illegal purposes.  It'll be interesting to see how Apple and other manufacturers respond.  But in the mean time, what do you guys think?

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Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

What Jailbreaking/Unlocking DMCA exception means for end users


They CAN still sue you for jailbreaking, you just have an ironclad defense. The damage the legal process does to your checkbook is a different issue.

Apple never was, and never is going to sue jailbreakers. The only difference to end users now is that jailbreakers can have a clean conscience knowing they aren't doing something previously in a dark-gray area (and arguably illegal).

Jailbreaking in itself is not illegal, and never should have been. Only if you use it to do illegal things, like getting paid music fir free, and sharing it all over the place. Warrenty is a different thing. Just about all electronic devices have a void warranty clause if you try to do your own repairs. The thing that gets me the most, apple says we cannot do this or that, and my friends with jailbroken phones had wallpaper, multitasking, and the rest. It look sharp to. I will never jailbreak mine. That is just me, but it's your device. You paid nicely for it. You should be able to jailbreak if you want.

This DMCA exception has nothing to do with lawsuits; it just means that Apple cannot pursue any criminal charges against jailbreakers. It has nothing to do with any civil action whatsoever, and would not be a defense if Apple pursued a civl matter. They would have to find grounds, most likely on breach of contract. IF Apple put explicit anti-jailbreaking language in the license agreement, they could theoretically make some noise about breach of contract, but that is not a criminal matter.
Apple is unlikely to do more than grumble about any civil action, however. If they put their legal money where their mouth is, it would immediately become the acid test on the validity of contracts/EULA's that can only be signed/clicked after the purchase has been made, and it is far from clear the courts would rule in Apple's favor there. A ruling declaring EULA's invalid would be far more devastating to Apple (and other software companies) than anything they would gain from going against jailbreakers, so as a rational company they will likely not risk it.

It's funny how they say it voids the warranty yet when you restore it gets rid of all traces of the jailbreak! So all the people who are worried about voiding their warranty are fools.

@boots I'm assuming your comments were deleted because they insulted another poster. we'll take care of problem posters, no need to insult people. that just adds to useless posts.
as far as it voiding your warranty, yes a restore will get rid of all traces, people are aware of that, but the fact that apple may not be able to refuse service means you won't have to "hide" the fact that you do it. ....maybe.

Why would Apple care to sue jailbreakers anyway? They are still buying the phone, and Apple is still making money from them. I read that about 10% of iPhones are JBed. Would Apple want to piss those 10% off and lose that much revenue from the jailbreakers not buying their next gen phone? It's not like jailbreakers don't buy legit apps from the app store as well as from cydia. End users can support both. I bought slingbox app from the app store, then boosted it with 3G Unrestrictor from cydia (back before 3G was enabled for slingbox). Both worlds can co-exist, in my opinion. I also bought MLB app from app store, then enhanced it to avoid blackout games with Location Spoof from cydia. Many instances when everyone can profit and be happy.

I think its fine.. I also aggree that apple will not honor the warranties on jail broken Phones and from a business perspective I dont see why they should.. As far as Hardware, if the Hardware failure is unrelated to the Jailbreak then they should warranty that.

I agree. Absolutly nothing is going to change besides them not being able to sue you and they cat tell you to give them your phone at the apple stores Warrenties will still be voided, support will be denied, and exploits will be patched.
Isn't a jailbreaking exploit also a security exploit so apple has an obligation to patch all security risks? Apple has always been boasting about their security. Don't get me wrong, I have a jailbroken iPhone, but couldn't someone use the same exploit for harm? Like a virus is downloaded to your computer that sits there and waits for an iPhone to be plugged in. Then the virus uses the exploit to hack it's way in and steal all of your information.

@allyson no people aren't aware of that it seems LOL, I have people tell me and swear that it voids the warranty and cannot be undone, daily.

Side note...Something DOES need to be done about pirating though. Even though I'm jb'ed, I ALWAYS, WITHOUT EXCEPTION buy my apps be they from Cydia or the app store. I just love Jailbreaking for Lockscreen options (Mail messages, Calendar, weather on your lockscreen) and mywi.

I am a computer security officer for a federal agency, and have had iPhones ever since they first became available, including my 4G that I got on launch day. I am very much a technogeek, and have been tempted to jailbreak my phone to take advantage of some of the cool apps out there. However, given all the news I hear almost daily about worms and viruses on mobile devices, I REFUSE to succumb to the temptation to jailbreak. Every major mobile device on the market has been the target of malicious code, including Android and jailbroken iPhones. This may not be in the news much, but it is rapidly becoming a major problem. I have the utmost respect for Apple and their passion to protect their customers and to preserve the user experience of their devices. Some folks may complain that Apple is keeping too much control of their whole environment, and possibly rightly so. But there is NO OTHER company I trust right now to keep malicious code away from my devices. The iPhone is no less susceptible to malware than any other computing device, but Apple's business model provides a very good safeguard against this, and they have quickly responded to unscrupulous code found in the App store. So, I am going to let them protect me and my family from the ever-increasing malware threat by not jailbreaking my iPhones. This may mean that I have to wait just a little longer for things like augmented reality to be fully developed in the iPhone environment, but the peace of mind is well worth the wait.

Yes, the Safari autofill issue (not present in WebKit or Chrome, introduced specifically by Apple) really shows their passion to protect their customers. I'm even more impressed by their passion not only to not fix it, but to stay completely silent.

The interesting question about this regarding warranties in the stories Allyson mentions is if this would give those customers any ammunition to push back on Apple under the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, or if it is irrelevant.

I agree with everything except for the warranty. At some point someone is going to be denied warranty and that person is going to sue. This may become a class action suit and that is when the consumer is going to use the iron clad defense Congress just handed to us. The court will probably rule in favor of the consumers and Apple will have to honor warranties for Jailbroken devices. However, they may do so by restoring the device to it's original factory settings as part of the process, in which case the user will have to jailbreak it himself again.

So what I haven't heard anyone talk about.. Doesn't this mean that the dev team and others can now legaly charge money for their services?