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Get Out of Jail Free Card? For Phones Only, Not Tablets.

The Library of Congress recently announced its newest list of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) prohibition against circumventing digital rights management measures.Individuals continue to be permitted to “jailbreak” their mobile phones, but such permission does not yet extend to tablets. 

The DMCA proscribes the circumvention of a “technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected” by the Copyright Act.However, this Code section also provides a procedure by which the Register of Copyrights (Register) may issue exemptions to this blanket prohibition.For the following three years, there are five exemptions to the DMCA’s anticircumvention rule. 

One such exemption, originally enacted in 2010, allows for the “jailbreaking” of mobile devices.To “jailbreak” is to work around your phone’s digital rights management scheme, which limits the type of software that can be run on a mobile device.In effect, “jailbreaking” allows users to implement software on their phones that is otherwise unauthorized by the phone’s vendor.

Specifically, this “jailbreaking” exemption permits the use of:

Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute lawfully obtained software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications with computer programs on the telephone handset.

Groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged the Register to expand this exemption to tablets so that individuals could run unapproved, third party software on their tablet devices such as iPads.Despite their position, the Register is keeping tablets under lock for the next three years. 

The Register, concerned by the potential breadth and vagueness of the term “tablet,” refused to extend the exemption beyond its current scope.Until it can be better determined what devices reside within the “tablet” category (e.g., iPads, e-readers, handheld video game consoles, and/or laptop computers), the DMCA’s get-out-of-jail-free card will apply only to mobile devices.

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