Americans explain why jailbreaking should be legal

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has selected some of the best submissions from the Copyright Office's review of whether it should continue to be legal in the USA to "jailbreak" your devices in order to make them more suited to their needs. In this post, we hear from a deaf man who jailbreaks his phone so that he can use it as an assistive device at work; a military worker in Kuwait who jailbreaks his phone so he can quickly access the flashlight function to scare off dangerous wildlife near the base; and a nurse whose jailbroken device allows her to "track my performance, treatments used on patients, and the effects of those treatments, much faster with customizations that are not available on a device that is not jailbroken."

A note for Canadians: Bill C-11, Canada's proposed copyright law, has no similar exemption-setting process. That means that if MP James Moore succeeds in passing his legislation, it would be illegal to modify your property in the ways described here.

Kevin McLeod is a deaf man who uses his Android phone — a Samsung Epic 4G — to assist him with communication, record-keeping, and time management. Like many deaf people, he uses video relay service (VRS) software on his phone to “work on a level playing field with hearing peers and have productive and meaningful careers.” He had these comments for the Copyright Office:

I need a phone that can run VRS software through the day without having to recharge every other hour. The stock phone I received can't do that. I had to upgrade to a more powerful battery. Then I installed an alternative version of the Android operating system called CleanGB that removes most of the carrier-installed software. This freed up memory and battery resources I need to stay connected.

We need the ability to modify our devices because manufacturers and carriers can't possibly anticipate all the needs of their customers. We need flexibility to make the most of the terrific tools they build for us. I love the power and connectivity my phone gives me. I love that I can customize it to meet my unique needs.

Letters to the Copyright Office: Why I Jailbreak

(Image: Jailbreaking the iPhone - 06, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from yugen's photostream)


  1. “…that removes most of the carrier-installed software. This freed up memory and battery resources…”


  2. You just purchased a new car, feel free to put new tires on the car whenever you like, however; you must wait for your dealer to issue you a notice of oil change before performing any additional maintenance on the car.  And when that notice arrives, only your dealer can perform the maintenance.  You have no say in what parts are used.

    Thanks for your business!

    1.  To play devils advocate for a minute, some people actually want that.

      Just like there are people who have smartphones, but don’t care about the details of how the software works, there are people who owns cars that care nothing about doing work on them.  A decent amount of people just want a product that works, and with something like a car that needs regular maintenance they are happy to have someone to do the work for them.  And if a dealership is offering a prepaid service contract with reminders, scheduling, and a loaner then that makes it easier on them.

      I understand your point, that if you do the work yourself your warranty is now void type of issue.  I think that’s bullshit as well, at least up until a certain point.  I find it oddly humorous that PCs developed from blank hardware running any program, while now we have things like tablets (ie iPad) running a locked in set of software.  Personally given the number of people I know who would take a working locked in piece of hardware vs. loading everything yourself…well I think the whole other OS/jailbreak issue is kind of silly.

      1. I choose to use several iOS devices because I happen to like the way they work. I have never bothered to jailbreak any of them. But that doesn’t stop me from knowing there is value in freedom and believing in the right of other people to do what they want with their property. 

        1. On the contrary.  I feel like most companies completely over estimate the demand from the general public for such devices, the iPhone is a great example.  With that there is little reason (other than support and warranty) for them not to have most forms of hardware unlocked.  To many if not most consumers having a phone that could load a different OS wouldn’t sway their decision to buy one or the other.

          Obviously the iPhone can be unlocked, but as smartphones become the norm (if they already haven’t) I’m guessing most people aren’t going to want to go through the trouble of unlocking one just for the fun of it.  Of all my friends/family/relatives only one has an unlocked phone.  But they should all have that choice if they want to.

  3. No thanks to ” treatments used on patients, and the effects of those treatments” on someone’s phone. Unless it is secured and never leaves the hospital.

    1.  Yeah, that’s pretty strictly illegal under HIPAA.  I’m a little surprised EFF would want to cheer for people jailbreaking phones for the express purpose of breaking federal law.

    2.  Being secure means that it is locked where the owner (the hospital/etc) holds the keys.   You need to remove foreign locks (including those applied by manufacturers) in order to secure devices.   Devices where the security keys are held by their previous owners are by definition insecure, and should be prohibited by HIPAA.

  4. “I am a nurse and the customizations I can make to my devices after jailbreaking increase my productivity and success in my job every day.  I can track my performance, treatments used on patients, and the effects of those treatments, much faster with customizations that are not available on a device that is not jailbroken.”

    Nurse Stephanie is:

    1. putting patient information,

    2. on a jailbroken device,

    3. post – HIPAA (USA privacy rules for patient medical information).

    Unless her place of work certified that jailbroken device as HIPAA compliant, this letter means a good chance of her IT and legal departments going ballistic and her getting fired. 

    “Reasons for jailbreaking personal devices are as varied as the people who use them, but they share two common themes: one, the law shouldn’t interfere with people’s use of their own devices”

    Yes, but they sure as *$#!!! should interfere with how you store other people’s confidential medical information. I’m really surprised EFF published that letter, they should have tried to send a warning back to her instead.I’m with E T (above) on this one.

  5. “We need the ability to modify our devices because manufacturers and carriers can’t possibly anticipate all the needs of their customers.” And because it’s quite frankly none of their business!  What is a Conservative government doing throwing a big socialist intrusion into our lives?

    1. I’ve seen no evidence the Conservatives understand their own bill, or how disrespectful of tangible property rights the TPM section is.  This is failed Clinton/Gore policy that is massively outdated before the bill was tabled.

      As I said in my participation in front of the previous committee:

      “For no other type of property would this be considered. We would never legally protect non-owner locks to all guns in a country where many are uncomfortable with the mere registration of long guns. We would never legally protect non-owner locks on our homes, alleging it was necessary to protect the insurance industry from fraud. We would never legally protect non-owner locks on our cars, allegedly to ensure that automobiles could never be used as a getaway vehicle.”

    2. Passing ‘socialist’ laws that unfairly benefit large corporations at the expense of freedom and markets it pretty much par for course for self described ‘conservatives’ around the world.

  6. I’d love to jailbreak a TiVo.  I paid over $200 for the box alone and then $20 a month to keep it working.  Once I decide that I don’t want to spend the monthly service fee any longer, the TiVo becomes nothing more than a brick. 

    1. You bring up a good point.  I really wonder if companies look at the upfront hardware cost/profit of device/actual sales price to determine how much work they are going to put into it.  For the most part someone should be able to retro fit some type of software onto a Tivo that would turn it into nothing more than a standalone PVR, that is provided Tivo would release the information necessary to facilitate such a task.

      But that circles back around, if Tivo gave the keys away to an older model they potentially lose that revenue stream of the monthly subscription (no matter how small it is).  In reality they should probably just create said software and sell it outright.  That and companies should bundle in the real cost of hardware into the product, not try and recoup profits by locking customers into a monthly subscription.

  7. Canadians concerned about this should sign the Petition to protect IT Property Rights 

    Names like “mod chips”, “jailbreaking” or “rooting” likely confuse the general public.   What we are talking about is allowing owners to change locks placed on our property by its previous owner.  Anyone who respects basic property rights should be willing to extend this to technology, and not treat digital devices differently than we do any other property.

  8. As when I buy a computer I want to be able to remove Windows and install linux disto Fedora. If I can’t Jailbreak my phone who is to say I can’t “Jailbreak” my PC. This Is Apples corporate control Bull.. I <3 my blackberry

  9. Apple and other manufactures will just get around this by leasing the devices to you. Pay $200 + service fees for a 2 year lease. From their POV problem solved. Plus they pretty much guarantee you’ll upgrade in 2 years.

    1. I would consider that a welcome advancement of the debate.  There is an honest and dishonest way to make a closed platform, and thus far they have all been blatantly dishonest and shown no respect for other peoples property.

      If they retained ownership and was using rental agreements, then the normal rule of law for those agreements would come into play.  In the case of home rentals most countries have come up with special legislation to ensure that the rights of both tenants and landlords are protected.

      At the moment we have a wild west situation where folks with no respect for property have been abusing a lack of technical understanding by parliaments to pass laws to legalize and legally protect an infringement of IT property rights that should be clearly illegally.

      An honest expansion of cinema into the home

      Reining in the rhetoric on copyright reform

  10. We’re going about this backwards. We shouldn’t be campaigning to keep jailbreaking legal, we should campaigning to make it illegal for device manufactures to impose these jails in the first place. Every computer with an app platform should be legally required to allow users to sideload applications, period.

    1. I agree.  We need to get politicians past the idea that digital technology should be treated the opposite to any other property.   When a property with a lock on it is sold, the previous owner hands over any keys to those locks.  Once ownership has transferred, the new owner also has the legal right to hire a locksmith to change the locks and use new keys.

      There is no legitimate reason why we or the law should treat our computers (mobile phones, embedded medial devices, etc) with any less respect than we do our homes or vehicles.  These same people alleging to be “conservatives” wouldn’t stand for such a blatant attack on property rights if it were any other type of property, and I believe it has been their lack of technical knowledge that has allowed  this nonsense to go on as long as it has.  It is our duty to try to educate politicians on this critical issue.

      I’ve been sending letters to my provincial MPP (Also Ontario Primier) Dalton McGuinty trying to alert him to how these federal bills trample areas of provincial jurisdiction

      I also sent him a copy of my article discussing abuses of UEFI , and how governments should be protecting technology property rights

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