Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Beautiful Prison is Still a Prison

One of the biggest criticisms of the iPhone is that it is too closed. There is only one way to get new software on an iOS device, and that is through Apple. Android devices, by comparison, can be plugged in to your computer and have whatever software you want loaded on them any time you want.

They call the iOS experience a "walled garden." It's beautiful, but you are trapped inside. In my opinion, a beautiful prison is still a prison.

You don't have to stay in prison, however. There's always a jailbreak.

I'm not talking about tunneling from your cell with a spoon smuggled out of the cafeteria and hiding in the laundry truck. The process of removing the lock Apple has on your iPhone is called jailbreaking. It gets you out of prison. Out of the walled garden.

The problem is, at least here in the United States, that the legal status of jailbreaking your phone is questionable. For a long time it was actually illegal. Then maybe it wasn't. Now maybe it is, or maybe it's not. But why should it be illegal?

According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, jailbreaking is illegal because it circumvents a technical measure that effectively controls access to a protected work. What is the "protected work" in this case? Presumably the phone itself, or maybe the software on the phone, as Apple claimed copyright protection over it. Copyrighting a phone? Seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. But for a while at least, the courts upheld that questionable notion.

I don't agree with that policy. If I purchase a phone, I believe I should be able to do whatever I want to it. If I can't, then what is the point of purchasing it? Am I really just renting it from Apple? I don't believe I will go to jail if I replace the control knobs on my toaster, so why should I face a penalty if I want to put Windows 95 on my iPhone?

Fortunately, the US Copyright Office came to their senses, more or less, and updated their policies concerning exemptions to the law. In October 2012, it became legal to jailbreak your phone. But just your phone...they refused to grant the same exemption to tablets. So you can jailbreak your iPhone but not your iPad. Weird.

The whole mess is just ridiculous. Certainly, it should be against the law to hack someone else's device. But your own device? I believe this situation exemplifies two problems with the laws in the United States. First, the laws are written by lobbyists on the payrolls of large corporations and are designed to empower those corporations at the expense of the rights of the people. Second, the laws do not keep pace with technological advancement.

The second problem is always going to be a problem, but the first problem can be corrected. Just do what I do, and always vote against the incumbent. Elections are next month.

Amphibian.com comic for 8 October 2014