Daniel Eran Dilger
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Mozilla, Skype support EFF’s case for iPhone jailbreaking

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Prince McLean, AppleInsider

In a filling with the US Copyright Office, Mozilla and Skype have added their voices of support to a request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act related to iPhone jailbreaking.

Mozilla, Skype support EFF’s case for iPhone jailbreaking

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The exemption would strip Apple of its ability to charge groups with DMCA violations for circumventing the iPhone’s security by modifying Apple’s internal iPhone software, as long as they did it under the cover of “enabling interoperability,” according to the exemption wording proposed by the EFF.

The jailbreak arguments

Users can already bypass Apple’s security system by jailbreaking their iPhones using freely available software. This allows the users to run software that Apple does not allow in its App Store. It also allows users to bootleg pirated iPhone software, strips the iPhone of any functional protection from malware, and complicates Apple’s ability to release software updates, as the modified firmware on jailbroken phones can result in failed software updates that render the phone unreliable or even unusable until it is restored back to factory default settings.

Speaking for the EFF, Fred von Lohmann has called Apple’s argument against the exemption “FUD,” “corporate paternalism,” and “absurdity.” Apple’s fillings say the EFF’s new exemption request is unnecessary, as the DMCA already has provisions that allow circumvention to enable interoperability. It also claims the EFF is merely trying to use the courts to attack its unique business model, and that the EFF does not present any evidence to back up its claims that legitimizing jailbreaking would result in increased innovation.

Few software companies offer iPhone titles that require jailbreaking, in part because of the grey area under the shadow of threat of a DMCA violation charge from Apple, and in part because of the lack of any profit motive behind distributing software outside of the App Store, where Apple’s DRM creates a viable market for mobile software. For developers who can’t sell their titles in the App Store, it’s an entirely different story however.

Mozilla wants freedom, but won’t go on the iPhone

Mozilla insists that Apple would probably not allow it to offer a mobile version of Firefox for the iPhone, based on its reading of the iPhone SDK, which forbids the installation of alternative runtimes. It has neither submitted Firefox nor has it been officially denied a listing by Apple.

A Computerworld report filed by Gregg Keizer quoted Mozilla’s CEO, John Lilly, as saying, “The [iPhone] SDK is very clear, that Flash and Firefox and other runtimes are not welcome on the iPhone.” However, the report also noted that Lilly “said he doubts Mozilla would venture into the iPhone even if the Copyright Office grants the DMCA exemption over jailbreaking.”

Mozilla’s mobile version of Firefox, called Fennec, aims to compete against mobile browsers based on Web Kit, including Apple’s Mobile Safari and web browsers developed by Nokia, Google for Android, Palm for its upcoming Pre, and RIM for the BlackBerry Storm.

Apple claims in its filing with the Copyright Office that alternative apps which compete with Apple’s own software are allowed as long as they meet the other requirements of the SDK. It even specifically cites web browsers; the App Store reveals a handful of alternative web browsers that are already available for download. Most appear to be alternative interfaces to Safari which use the WebKit rendering engine, but at least one appears to use its own.

Skype’s missed connection

Skype, which is owned by eBay, a prominent early adopter in iPhone software development, also joined in to endorse the EFF’s exemption request, stating “copyright law should not interfere with a user using his or her phone to run Skype and enjoy the benefits of low- or no-cost long-distance and international calling.”

However, Apple does not prevent VoIP applications on the iPhone, as long as they use WiFi. The App Store lists a variety of VoIP apps, but Skype currently does not offer an iPhone version of its software.

Unclear intent

If allowed, the EFF’s exemption might make it easier for companies that want to offer an alternative to the App Store, including the jailbreak software download tool Cydia, which also filed a comment supporting the EFF’s proposal.

The DMCA exemption would not stop Apple from filing a copyright infringement case against groups who modify and distribute its software however. The DMCA only relates to the circumvention of security measures that control access to copyright material. Bypassing security doesn’t remove copyright. It also doesn’t invalidate Apple’s software license or SDK, both of which forbid modifying Apple’s internal software. A DMCA exemption would only make it far more difficult for Apple to pursue known pirates.

Apple hasn’t yet filed or even threatened to file DMCA complaints against any groups or individuals involved in jailbreaking. Instead, the company has focused on making the App Store attractive enough to render jailbreaking superfluous and irrelevant to most users. Since the release of the iPhone 2.0 SDK, interest in jailbreaking has waned considerably.

The company still opposes the EFF’s efforts to legitimize jailbreaking, as it would tear down a barrier to copyright infringement, encourage users to dismantle the malware security measures of the iPhone, expose the company to additional support costs from jailbreakers complaining about having “bricked” their iPhones, and erode the commercial success of the App Store, which was built upon the premise that DRM would allow developers to offer apps at low prices in exchange for a high volume, low piracy marketplace.

  • hmciv

    I’m having trouble seeing how supporting the EFF on this case benefits Mozilla and Skype. Considering the ratio of jailbroken to unbroken iPhones and the threat an Apple Software Update may brick jailbroken phones I wonder if their interest is purely philosophical/publicity related.

  • Thomas Menguy

    As it is today iPhone AppStore is for sure slowing innovation: Apple is intentionally limiting what kind of application you can do and run on your phone.
    If the Apple review process were only based on quality/security checking there would be no need for jailbreak (ok apart from piracy, but I assume it is not the EFF point).
    Sorry but I miss good video players, turn by turn GPS, MMS, not limited podcast manager etc. All apps refused by Apple, based on their own secret agenda.
    What would you say if MS were limiting the kind (not the quality/security) of applications you want to run on you windows PC?…same for apple on your Mac. Not sure you would blindly follow :-)
    I think this is precisely the point of EFF.

  • PPie

    If Mozilla and Adobe are so strong about supporting jailbreaking and Flash on the iPhone, they should partner and provide a Mozilla based browser that includes Flash support. That would show that they support their claims of open & flash on the iPhone.
    If a lot of people are so in need of flash, as is always posted on the tech weblogs, they would immediately start using this browser+flash combo. That would give a signal to Apple…
    On the other hand, it seems the boast of Adobe that Flash would run well on the iPhone is empty, as after all this time, still no demo has been given.

    BTW: Why has nobody created an iPhone version of one of the open source Flash clones? It would seem that for jailbroken iPhones a large flash-plugin market would exist.

    (For the record, I am very happy flash-less using MobileSafari on my iPhone)

  • slappy joe

    so, Apple entered the phone market with a computer, right? And while enjoying lucrative benefits of leveraging a real OS into the cell phone market they want to somehow redefine what a consumer can do with it?

    [Yes, how dare Apple define its own product (?), particularly if it ends up more successful with engineered focus rather than as a speculative catchall crapshoot. It’s time for the proletariat to rise up and take ownership of Apple’s software. Strip the private sector of property and give it to the people! And administer this new freedom through an unworkable bureaucracy! Sounds like a great plan. – Dan ]

  • slappy joe

    Dan! I’m *truly* honored to hear from you (not being sarcastic- i read you’re blog daily)
    Apple can, itself, define its own product however they like. But didn’t I “take ownership of Apple’s software” when i purchased my phone? What if I personally (for some random and odd reason) believe my own engineering of its OS adds value in my particular use of the hardware? If the resulting damage to Apple’s reputation is the concern, then that is a valid cause for degradation of the brand – I mean, they are selling products that can be reverse engineered by teenagers in 15 minutes.

  • hmciv

    @slappy joe

    I suspect Apple is afraid someone will write an app that (intentionally or otherwise) takes out other iphones, takes out AT&T or exploits people’s personal data. I’ll be interested to see if Mozilla or Opera attempt to write a browser for the iPhone.

  • http://www.systematicabstraction.com/ KA

    @Thomas Menguy,

    What is your definition of a “good video player”? I am happy with the built-in one, where do you see the problem?

    And for podcasts – again, what’s wrong with iTunes? Evidently something, as somebody went to the trouble of making RSS Player.

    I don’t really see a case for Firefox on iPhone. Firefox’s two selling points are security and extensibility. I see very little market for extensions on the iPhone, and Firefox doesn’t offer a great deal of security over Safari.

  • http://www.svpocketpc.com Pony99CA

    Jailbreaking seems wrong, but Apple needs to loosen up on the control issues.

    Steve

  • Thomas Menguy

    @KA
    video player: format are just too limited, I can’t download a video and play it nor put a well formatted divX…
    Podcast: I like itunes … on the PC, why their is a limit to 10Megs on my 3G connection?? sorry there is not good excuse to that
    For firefox, I agree, the integration of webkit with the rest of the system is awsome.
    Don’t get me wrong I’m a fan of my Itunes/iPhone combo, but the closed minded and the “we now better than you what is good for you” from apple is sometimes a little bit irritating :-)
    I would really like to see from Daniel a little bit more criticisms (constructive) toward Apple than always defending the Apple choices…being balanced is not so easy…