Until recently, installing the unapproved iBoobs app on your phone could land you in legal hot water. In July, however, the U.S. Copyright Office approved six exemptions to the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), allowing consumers to modify their cell phones in certain circumstances.
The DMCA makes it illegal to break digital locks, but it also allows exceptions. Under the Copyright Office's new guidelines, owners of smartphones will be allowed to modify the software on their handsets and unlock the phones in order to switch them to different carriers. This will give millions of iPhone users the option to legally install software that is not available through Apple's App Store.
The Copyright Office also ruled that people are allowed to decrypt DVDs and use short clips for purposes of education, documentary filmmaking, and producing noncommercial videos for sites such as YouTube. Yet it is still illegal for a third party to provide the software necessary to extract video from a DVD.
Corynne McSherry, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which petitioned for some of the changes, says both decisions have important implications for American consumers and content creators. "They're going to have much more flexibility in terms of making the uses that they expect to make of the products that they buy," McSherry says.