An Open Letter to the US Copyright Office in Defense of Jailbreaking

Dear Copyright Office

iPhone Generation

Image by xcode via Flickr


I would like to register my support for the practice of jailbreaking of smartphones, tablets, and game systems on the principle that these devices are fully-functional computers and should not have their functionality crippled to promote monopolistic business practices by their manufacturers. I believe that “jailbreaking”– or “freeing personal electronics to function properly as the computers they are”– is an essential condition for teaching and learning of 21st Century technological skills.

I was one of the enthusiastic Apple users who went out to buy the first iPhone in 2007. Though the iPhone has since brought the term “apps” into the popular consciousness, the first iPhones did not have an app store and could only run basic apps that were installed by Apple at the factory. A community base of enthusiasts started jailbreaking iPhones to allow that revolutionary hardware to perform new and useful functions that Apple had not built into it. This is what computers are supposed to be used for—enabling users to write and run programs that perform valuable functions! The first iPhone apps were all written by jailbreakers, and those of us users who jailbroke had access to a vibrant entrepreneurial community of people pushing the limits of the iPhone’s capabilities. The law-abiding normies had a crippled phone that couldn’t do many of the functions that we now consider “standard” for a smartphone.

For example: It was a minor scandal for the first two years of the iPhone that it didn’t have two basic and very useful features, Copy and Paste. While Apple put out two phones that didn’t have it (2007’s iPhone and 2008’s iPhone 3G), the jailbreaking community solved that problem in under a year and brought a fully-functional copy/paste feature to the iPhone. This is just one of the many examples where independent developers added value to the iPhone just because they could. It’s unfortunate that they had to violate their Terms of Service and invalidate their warranty to do so.

While Apple’s desktop operating system (OS X) has always allowed users to write, run, and fully own the applications they create, Apple have taken a much more restrictive and user-hostile stance with their smartphones and tablets on iOS. I believe that these excessive restrictions are less about security—they are designed to “lock” users and vendors into having to use Apple’s App Store for all commerce that involves these devices. Once Apple decided to allow user-created apps in 2008, they only allowed them to be sold through Apple’s own store, taking a usurious 30% of all profits from these sales. They rigidly control which apps can be sold in the app store and have developed a reputation for rejecting apps for questionable and contradictory reasons. While these monopolistic practices may be great for Apple, they result in higher prices, less innovation, and less choice for consumers.

I want to stress again that no desktop computer operating system like Windows or Mac has ever attempted to prevent its users from running third-party programs. We have never needed to “jailbreak” a device before because no company has ever been so brazen as to deny users the right to leave one internet service provider (AT&T) and use another one (T-Mobile). Now that Apple has crossed that threshold, other device manufacturers are following suit, hoping that they too can limit their users’ economic choices via technological means so they can squeeze greater profits from their captive users.

Please understand that Apple’s practice of “jailing” technology signals a historic shift—from computers serving humans’ interests to computers serving corporations’ interests.

I think it’s a negative development and I wholeheartedly oppose it.

As an educator, I am interested in empowering young people to actively explore technology. I have seen that open source tools and jailbreaking make it possible for students to “look under the hood” of technology so they can understand how it works. I encourage students to learn how open source tools like Linux, Android, and WordPress work because they are the materials from which a new world is being constructed. Closed and jailed technology tools separate consumers from creators in a way that hammers, nails, wood, and steel do not. Just as lumber producers should not be able to dictate who can build a house with their wood, a hardware manufacturer should not be able to dictate who can write a program for their system. Please continue to preserve people’s right to self-determination with the technology tools they buy. Please preserve our right to jailbreak our devices and learn to master them so we can actively participate in this new world that is coming into being.

Ted Curran

Oakland, CA


If you’re interested in contributing your voice to keep jailbreaking legal, go to the EFF’s page and get involved!

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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