Is It Illegal To Root Your Android or Jailbreak Your iPhone?
Well you guys ask us via mail, Is It Illegal To Root Your Android or Jailbreak our iPhone? Are we violating the warranty terms and conditions? So, we decided to make a post on that!
The tech landscape was made a little more complicated when lawmakers passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Initially, it became illegal to unlock a cellphone, share a Netflix account or do anything that might be considered an attack on copyright and copyrighted material.
Whether you’re rooting an Android phones or jailbreaking an iPhone, you’re removing the restrictions the manufacturer or cellular carrier placed on the device you own. Unfortunately, rooting, jailbreaking, and even unlocking cell phones is likely illegal in some countries.
Note: We’re not lawyers and this is not legal advice. We’re just geeks trying to understand what the law is and what we can legally do with the devices we own.
Note that some Android manufacturers allow you to root the device with their permission. For example, all Google’s Nexus smartphones and tablets allow easy, official rooting.
This isn’t illegal. Many Android manufacturers and carriers block the ability to root – what’s arguably illegal is the act of circumventing these restrictions.
Apple never allows users to jailbreak its devices or install unauthorized software, so jailbreaking is always performed without Apple’s authorization.
The US congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1999. Under the DMCA, it’s illegal to “circumvent” digital rights management schemes. However, there’s an exemption process that allows the Librarian of Congress to grant exemptions for specific cases.
In the past, unlocking cell phones so they could be used on another carrier was legal, but it’s now illegal to unlock your phone without your carrier’s permission. This is due to the way the exemption process works – what’s legal today may not be legal next year when the Librarian releases a new batch of exemptions. Apple has argued against these exemptions, lobbying to make jailbreaking the iPhone a crime.
The exact exemption is for:
“Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.”
So, you have to root or jailbreak your phone ONLY to use applications that require root access or that can only be installed from outside Apple’s App Store. If you’re rooting your phone for any other reason at all – or if you do anything else requiring root or jailbreak access – your rooting or jailbreaking is apparently illegal.
The Canadian government passed the Copyright Modernization Act in 2012. It makes tampering with “digital locks” illegal, with very specific exemptions for interoperability, security, privacy, encryption research, and unlocking cell phones. So, if you’re rooting your Android to run root-only software on it or jailbreaking your iPhone to install apps Apple won’t allow into the App Store, you should be okay.
However, “the Bill prohibits the sale or import of tools and services that enable hacking.” So, while rooting and jailbreaking are legal, creating a tool that satisfied these needs and selling it would be illegal.
In EU countries, this would seem to fall under the Computer Programs Directive. This directive states that:
“The unauthorised reproduction, translation, adaptation or transformation of the form of the code in which a copy of a computer program has been made available constitutes an infringement of the exclusive rights of the author. Nevertheless, circumstances may exist when such a reproduction of the code and translation of its form are indispensable to obtain the necessary information to achieve the interoperability of an independently created program with other programs.
It has therefore to be considered that, in these limited circumstances only, performance of the acts of reproduction and translation by or on behalf of a person having a right to use a copy of the program is legitimate and compatible with fair practice and must therefore be deemed not to require the authorisation of the right holder.”
If we’re reading this correctly, it says that rooting or jailbreaking is a violation of copyright, just as the laws in the USA and Canada do.
However, it then says that rooting or jailbreaking for the purposes of “interoperability” is an exemption to this.
In other words, it’s essentially “fair use” to root or jailbreak with the intent of running other, legally acquired software. This exemption is broad in some ways – and unlike in the USA, it will also apply to tablets – but narrow in others. If you’re not jailbreaking for the express purpose of interoperability, you’re violating the software authors’ copyright in the EU.
So it appears that creating and distributing a rooting or jailbreaking tool is illegal, even while rooting or jailbreaking itself is still allowed. The directive seems to require that everyone independently develop and create their own jailbreaking and rooting tools.
The Bottom Line:
If nothing else, these are the kind of laws that make people lose their respect for the law. They’re pointless laws that criminalize everyday activity with no intention of actually prosecuting anyone for it or protecting consumer rights. They’re the kind of laws that make everyone a criminal in some way or another.
So, did we get something wrong? Probably. It’s likely that even lawyers, judges, and government bureaucrats can’t agree on exactly what some of these laws mean. But we tried our best – and shouldn’t regular people be able to understand what is and isn’t illegal under the law?