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Rooting and Jailbreaking Officially Made Legal for Phones, Tablets Not So Much

Yesterday, the Librarian of Congress listed their new exemptions to the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Awesomely enough, this news actually effects us as Android owners and tinkerers. According to the filing, which will remain unchanged for another three years, states that the “unlocking” smartphones will remain legal under certain circumstances. When it comes to jailbreaking/rooting, you’re basically good to go though. 

As for unlocking a device to put it on a new carrier, it’s a tad bit more confusing. If you purchase a device directly from a carrier, then unlock it within 90 days of purchase, you’re okay. If you buy a phone after January of 2013, it’s not legal though unless it is specifically allowed by the carrier. Kind of weird, right?

Onto rooting and custom software. If you’re rooting your phone and flashing AOKP or CyanogenMod, you have nothing to fear according to the new list.

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.

Also in the filing is that tablets can no longer be unlocked unless allowed for by the manufacturer. This was on the record:

Found significant merit to the opposition’s concerns that this aspect of the proposed class was broad and ill-defined, as a wide range of devices might be considered ‘tablets,’ notwithstanding the significant distinctions among them in terms of the way they operate, their intended purposes, and the nature of the applications they can accommodate. For example, an e-book reading device might be considered a ‘tablet,’ as might a handheld video game device or a laptop computer.

So basically, unless you’re receiving special permission to unlock tablets for fun or unlocking phones for other carriers, you’re going to need some permissions. To read more in-depth on the new exemptions and learn more about the DCMA and how it may affect you, please follow the via.

Via: Arstechnica

Cheers Matt, Nick, and Bizi!

  • Frank

    how can they say that the term tablet is too vague. Everybody knows what a tablet is!

  • k1ng617

    Legal or illegal that was never an issue it was the loss of warranty that affected most end users. Does this ruling change that at all?

  • Taylor Levesque

    The real problem here is that the distinction isn’t made between jailbreaking and rooting. I understand the DRM issues of jailbreaking, seeing as the main reason to do it seems to be to gain free apps. Rooting is nothing like that because alternate market places don’t require root. Rooting is administrator rights to your phone or tablet. AOKP doesn’t allow me to steal music or movies anymore than stock touchwiz does on my phone or stock Jelly bean on my N7. Teachers don’t write education laws, doctors don’t write health care laws and IT people don’t write laws pertaining to tech. Instead it’s left to people 60+ years old who struggle to operate their own personal machines without calling their sons and daughters.

  • sport

    Wth! Censored here?!? WTH man…..half of the ‘screw this’ posts are gone……never would have figured censorship here….

    • sport

      NM….this stupid thing wasn’t showing all the comments the first time on. For some reason had to reload it a couple times and then it showed them all.

  • US becoming more and more like china?

  • “Awesomely enough, this news actually effects us as Android owners and tinkerers.”


  • fs

    This is absolutely ridiculous, however it doesn’t affect me – Samsung doesn’t mind you rooting, as long as you know it voids the warranty, and I have the Xoom, which is a developer tablet which Motorola doesn’t mind you rooting either.

    Doesn’t mean I encourage this though.

  • <— this guy

    Hope u guys cove this a bit better in episode 3

  • alex drum

    This stuff is so dumb. No one checks! I’ll do what I want! Its my device and its stupid that their are laws telling me what to do with it when it does not negatively effect anyone else. This world has way too many laws, its so crapy that most of these laws are in place so carriers (mainly verizon) can suck every penny out of us. I am still on Unlimited data and I am running a rooted Jelly bean, it has tethering built in. In my car I have 3 nexus 7 devices in my car and my phone running as a hotspot (plugged in so it doesn’t die). Anyway, I figure verizon has got enough money out of me so when people are in my car I encourage them to use the devices as much as possible I have been using around 100gb of data a month. (I drive people daily to work and back aka carpool) saving the environment and trying to fight back any way i can agains the greedy corporation that is verizon! I know I probably an not even a blip on their radar but I am doing all I can.

  • sport

    How bout this: Government stays the heck out of our business. They’ve got no right telling us we can/can’t unlock what we’ve bought. This changes nothing for me. I’ll unlock what I want….

  • nikko
  • Last time I checked, once a pay for a product its MINE. I should be able to do what ever I want with it. Now if I hit someone over the head with it…. That would be assault and that is illegal. Rooting/jail breaking doesn’t hurt anyone.

  • Raven

    So, I am a Computer Systems Engineer, not a Lawyer. What does this really mean for tablet owners who have rooted their tablets? Anything? Nothing?

  • I dont care a damn about the DCMA. I bought the hardware therefore it is mine, i own it, there in turn I can do whatever the hell i want with it without the need of permission from anyone.

    • I bought the DVD of the latest movie. It’s MINE, I can copy and sell the copies to whoever I like. That’s the analogy

      • sport

        How the hell is that ‘the analogy’? No one is reselling anything or copying anything. This is the whole point; unlocking and rooting doesn’t hurt anyone and does open the tablet/phone up to more usefulness.

    • antinorm

      I don’t care about the DMCA, because it was essentially purchased by lobbyists. It’s an unethical law obtained by highly unethical means.

  • FortitudineVincimus

    Wait WTF? legal? illegal.. I don’t even understand. What, some phone police are going to bust you. This is amazingly stupid. I don’t need “permission” to do sh**.

  • nightscout13

    Can you imagine getting booked into jail for having a jail-broken phone? The facken irony….

    • Mapekz

      That’s actually hilarious as hell. I don’t know why I didn’t put that pun together earlier.

      • nightscout13

        Cop says “let me make sure you Droid RAZR HD is not rooted. WHAT??? How dare you ROOT your phone? you’re going to jail for copyright infringement dirtbag!”

    • Before surrendering our jail-broken phone can we use it for the “one call we are allowed?” To mimic Mapekz, your remark is absolutely hilarious. Thanks for the laugh

  • So, basically, the only tablets that can be legally rooted or jail-broken right out of the box are the Nexus 7 and the Xoom?

  • nightscout13

    I don’t get it….. why can’t people unlock tablets? If you paid for it, you should be able to do with it whatever the fack you want! What’s next, receiving a $300 fine from the FCC for losing your cell phone?

  • Nicholas Odenthal

    Does this mean I can use aokp on my phone and the warenty wont be void

    • nightscout13

      I’d say no. This has to do with the legality of said actions, but not manufacturer warranties.

  • Nicholassss

    Why cant we fiddle with our tablets? Apart from being able to make calls, whats the difference?

    • It has to do with DRM.

      • sporty

        So buy from only the Companies that unlock their stuff…..make the ones that don’t pay…

  • CrysisRequiem

    Wait, it was ILLEGAL to root your phone before?

    • lumpysherman

      Yes at one time it was illegal to root/jailbreak your phone. If it was up to Apple that would still be illegal.

    • Southrncomfortjm

      It was illegal to break through the DRM. If the manufacturer either didn’t include DRM or gave you a way to unlock it, then you were always good. Now you can crack the DRM even if the manufacturer/carrier doesn’t want you to, as long as you aren’t doing it to switch to a different carrier… unless the carrier says its okay.

  • TheWenger

    Well at least all Nexus devices will be allowed to unlock by the manufacturer.

  • Sam’s Son

    Your warranty still gets voided for rooting though right?

    • lumpysherman

      Yes plus your contract could be voided by your carrier.

  • zachos

    You can unlock any phone that was “originally acquired from
    the operator of a wireless telecommunications network or retailer no later than
    ninety days after the effective date of this exemption.” So, I don’t think you have to buy the phone directly from the carrier, or unlock it within 90 days, as was said.

    • Mapekz

      It’s not an OR but an AND: it has to be purchased from the carrier and unlocked within 90 days starting today. If the device isn’t unlocked out of the box, regardless of whether you buy it from the OEM or the carrier, and you don’t unlock it yourself within 90 days from today you will have to go to the carrier you locked the device to in order to unlock it.

      • zachos

        I think you misunderstood what I’m trying to say in the last sentence. What I’m trying to say is: 1) The quote I reference above, from the Arstechnica article (and presumably from the Librarian of Congress), says you can acquire the device from “the operator of a wireless telecommunications network or retailer.” It says nothing about having to buy the phone “directly from a carrier,” as Tim said. 2) You don’t have to “unlock [the phone] within 90 days of purchase” to be able to do it without carrier approval, as Tim said again. It is about when you purchase the device, not about when you unlock the device. If you purchase it no later than 90 days after October 28 (90 days after “the effective date of this exemption”), you’re good to go. In other words, you shouldn’t have to get carrier approval to unlock any phone purchased by January 26, 2013 (including phones that you currently have), no matter when you unlock it. Let me know if you have a source stating otherwise.

        • Mapekz

          I think we’re saying the same exact thing but your wording threw me off.

          This is my interpretation of the ruling:

          1) Any phone purchased after (and possibly on) Jan 26 requires carrier approval to unlock. Any phones purchased prior to that date, including those you already own, will remain legal to self-unlock/unlock via a third party service even after Jan 26.

          I think we both completely understand this correctly.

          2) When you said: ‘So, it doesn’t seem to imply that you have to buy the phone directly from the carrier, or unlock it within 90 days’ I interpreted as ‘if we buy it from the retailer/OEM instead of the carrier we’re safe from this rule even if the phone is bought from Google Play/Apple/Samsung.com/etc after Jan 26.’ I wanted to clarify based off this interpretation that this was incorrect: regardless of who you buy it from you have until Jan 26 to buy a phone that you can unlock without the carrier’s help. Any phones you buy after 90 days from tomorrow require carrier permission to unlock.

          • zachos

            Yeah, we’re both on the same page. Sorry for the confusing wording. And, I’m also on the same page as you in regard to how B.S. this all is. Needing carrier approval to unlock a device that is capable of running on another carrier/network is garbage. We already have contracts to contend with, and now we have this. Whose device is it anyway? Mine, or the carrier’s? I thought it was mine. And, this quote kills me: “the Librarian found that there are more unlocked phones on the market than there were three years ago, and that most wireless carriers have liberal policies for unlocking their handsets. As a result, the Librarian of Congress decided that it should no longer be legal to unlock your cell phone without the carrier’s permission.” Preposterous! I have a feeling we’re going to see those “liberal policies” get a lot less liberal.

  • Teng Taing

    dont you love it when the govt can tell you what you can and cant do with a device you purchased?

  • Crazyferris

    So does this mean that Moto will have to add a whole bunch of devices to their bootloader unlocking program?

    • No, its not illegal, however, theres nothing that says they need to provide you tools or access to it either.

  • Mapekz

    This isn’t a win in the slightest. We didn’t care for legality in terms of being able to jailbreak/root, we just cared to be able to do it. If it’s legal doesn’t mean that it is illegal for Apple or Verizon/HTC/Motorola/etc to lock your device to prevent hacking it. It just means that circumventing those failsafes is legal. AKA we haven’t gotten anywhere.

    Furthermore, their reasoning for saying ‘users need to ask carrier permissions to unlock their phones for use on another carrier’ is basically ‘the carriers decided to offer unlocked devices so we won’t allow you to unlock the devices yourself’ => carriers are now the authority for all unlocking and can still say no.

    The LAST thing we need is to give carriers more power because they are slow moving masses burdened with archaic by-the-book policies which hardly apply a few years after being written into terms of service agreements. This doesn’t do any of us any good. This is not a win.

    • Jesus Christ. Some of you guys complain about everything. This isn’t enough for you? Go design your own phone and start your own company. Yeesh…

      • Rick Lopez

        Yeah what he said, also if you need to go to school just get a loan from your parents, EASY!

      • Mapekz

        Not enough for me? Did you not read what I said? This is a step backwards. They haven’t changed anything except made things worse for us.

        Before: Jailbreaking/rooting was never illegal before today as everyone has been doing it.

        After: After this ruling, it is still not illegal. However no new clause has been added to make it illegal for the OEMs and carriers from locking your device so we still have to suffer all the pains of rooting/jailbreaking locked/encrypted devices the same way as before.

        Net change: None

        Before: We were unlocking/jailbreaking tablets no problem.

        After: Because of some arbitrary ruling, tablets are not seen as the same thing as a smartphone so it is actually ILLEGAL for us to modify the software on them even though we are paying full price (full retail or over 2 years with subsidy) to own the hardware but merely ‘license’ the software.

        Net change: don’t jailbreak your Nook, Transformer, Surface or iPad else you’re going to have to pay a fine or even go to jail and hang out with serial killers.

        Before: Because of pressure due to FCC regulations and other market forces it was illegal for the power-hungry and greedy carriers to disallow you from unlocking your device to use on another carrier.

        After: Because there are so many unlocked devices out there (as a result of the above rulings which have consistently passed for the last decade), the Library of Congress has decided “the carriers seem to be playing ball so we will force customers to unlock their handsets through the carriers now”

        Net change: We cannot unlock our phones without carrier approval as it is now illegal to bypass them, aka carriers now have even more power over us.

      • HTC1

        Umm, it’s a forum/blog. Thats what you do here.

    • Philip A. Kaiser

      I will agree and disagree with you. Let’s put it into an automobile analogy.
      Rooting, ROMing: This new ruling essentially says that you are now allowed to modify the engine of your new car. Naturally, the manufactorer is not bound to honor their warranty once you do it, but you are allowed to do whatever you wish with it because you own it. Yay, drop that supercharger on your new Camaro.
      As for requiring manufactorers to unlock their devices or provide a means to do so, this is where I disagree with you.
      Unlocked bootloader requirement: While the ruling allows you to modify your engine in any way possible, this does not require that Ferrari makes it easy for you, and/or even provides you with the unique and/or patented tools to do so. It is the buyers decision to purchase that brand of automobile and if it is not easy to work on or repair, we will not require the manufactorer to make it so. (aka, don’t buy the Ferrari, get a Chevy.)
      Make sense?

      • Mapekz

        I understand completely. My point is that the news sites are making it seem like we “won” something as in things are better for us modders and hackers.

        One problem is that your car engine analogy is flawed: it was explicitly illegal to modify the engine before the hypothetical ruling. In the smartphone world, jailbreaking/rooting is not illegal at all. If it were, Cyanogenmod.com would have been Megauploaded to hell and Steve Kondik would have been cellmates with Kim Dotcom. By making it legal, they simply stated that you can’t be fined or imprisoned for jailbreaking/rooting but that was never our concern. Our concern was to have hacking be supported by the OEMs the way Nexus devices support it. Making it legal doesn’t change this so we don’t actually “win” the way this article or the source article make it seem like we do.

        In fact because of the illegality of hacking your tablet (wtf?) and the forcing of customers to go to their carrier in order to unlock their devices to use on another carrier we have achieved an insurmountable loss of power with relation to the carriers.

        • This is how I read it as well. Not a win in the least, it just gives carriers and manufacturers more power. Example: its now illegal to put any custom or stock form of android on a kindle, nook, etc

          • Alan Paone

            Apple have been insisting for years that jail breaking was illegal, and without this exemption, jail breaking and rooting would be completely illegal,so whileits not the massive win we want, its not the itter loss they want.

          • Michael Hutwagner

            its so funny that jobs was like that but when he was young he him self was a hacker

      • PSU_DI

        @PAKmann2k:disqus can you imagine if car manufactors forced you to only let “their” mechanics to work on their vehicles and that it would be illegal to work on it yourself. Locking bootloaders is total BS and is anticonsumer. I can’t get over how many people defend these practices.

        • HTC1

          Umm, that was almost here in MA (sort of). There was a new law going on the ballot this Novemeber that would require us to have our cars fixed by the dealers only! The dealers would not give codes for fixing cars to the local garages. Imagine that? it somehow already got shot down and won’t be on the ballot anymore. But that just happened recently. Everyone was nervous, especially the local garages. How can you tell somone where they have to get the car fixed. Same as this phone thing. let us do what we want. We can with computers why not phones.

          • PSU_DI

            Wow, I had no idea. My father owns a local garage in DE and this would completely decimate his business. Why do we keep giving our individual freedoms to corporations. I’m glad that there was enough noise to prevent something like this from going through. I wonder which state will try this again.

          • Mapekz

            More importantly why don’t we get to vote about tech laws? Who has the authority to make very general laws that apply to all unique situations when it’s the actual consumers who experience the corner cases where the law is detrimental?

      • Mapekz

        To separate my points I will make another analogy in terms of unlocking the phone for use on another carrier:

        Say today you buy a car and you can drive it anywhere no problem. However let’s say the car manufacturer got in bed with the governments of a few states and now as a result of today’s ruling you are only allowed to drive that car within the state from where you bought it. In order to drive it elsewhere you have to go to your state government and ask them for permission to drive the car in another state. Chances are the state government wants you to stay within the state so they can capitalize on income and sales taxes so they will most likely say no. Chances are so many others will be asking them the same thing and the slow moving carrier/government will be unable to process any requests in a timely manner and just say no in order to clear problem tickets as fast as possible.

        • gkinsella2

          You are describing the car analogy of “roaming”. If you want to actually “move” to another “state”, you are required to “license” your vehicle in that state…same if you want to have your phone on someone else’s network – you need permission.

          • Mapekz

            A better analogy is being able to drive the car only on the roads country-wide as per the discretion of the state(s) in which you licensed your vehicle.

            The analogy is moot anyway as the automobile industry and the agencies governing have such measures to prevent people from losing their lives. A smartphone is hardly capable of anything even remotely close to causing a disaster that can directly or indirectly injure or kill people (we’ve proven the ‘battery explosions’ were not because of the smartphones spontaneously combusting :P).

            Instead of using analogies to muddy the message (as probably what happened at the LoC to begin with as with the Apple vs Samsung trial) we should stay focused on the key point: the consumers lost due to this arbitrary ruling.

      • Actually, manufacturers in the automotive world are REQUIRED to honor a vehicle warranty with aftermarket parts. The Magnuson-Moss Act protects the consumer. Now, if the part were proven to cause something like engine failure, the manufacturer is not required to replace the engine, but they can’t systematically void the entire warranty.

        We need something like that in the smartphone/electronics industry.

    • Paul

      Why would there be a law against trying to prevent us from unlocking a phone? It’s their product. I don’t think it should be illegal to unlock the phone either – the government has no place in the matter either way.

  • Jason Purp

    It has been legal for years…

    • Yes, but this was a “should we make it illegal” rather than a “should we make it legal”.

  • abhisahara

    Yeah – (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) makes DMCA and not DCMA 🙂

    • Brendon Martin

      Cool typo catch bro!

  • tcbear67

    So where does a Samsung Galaxy Note fit in with this argument?

    • Whatever you do, don’t use the P-Word.

      • nightscout13

        I don’t like the no-no word either….

    • Mapekz

      It’s capable of making calls so it’s a phone: it’s not illegal to root it.

      If you have a Nexus 7 or 10, however, I assume the workaround is to install Vonage or Skype or something to turn it into a ‘telecommunications device,’ in turn making it legal to root it.

      Or something. I want what the Library of Congress was smoking.

      • ddevito

        GrooveIP + Google Voice.

        • tomn1ce

          Will I be able to use that combination with a phone that doesn’t have service other then wifi?

      • forgiventhief

        But, I can also make calls from my Asus Transformer using VOIP…

      • JoshGroff

        Or you can just root it, because there’s really not much they can do…

        • michael arazan

          Wonder how this applies to Asus’ Padfone?

      • Sloan Marion

        Google allows the unlocking of their devices, do you have nothing to worry about as long as you buy nexus.

      • snowblind64

        Pretty sure that the illegal part is breaking an encrypted bootloader on a device(e.g. most Motorola devices). This does not apply to Nexus devices as Google has pretty much given us the go ahead to tinker with these devices, hence the unencrypted and easily unlockable bootloaders.

      • Ian Anderson

        That wouldn’t make it a phone. That would make it a tablet with an application that calls phones. It doesn’t have actual telephony.

        • Mapekz

          The LoC seems fairly arbitrary and vague with their approach so it could be argued that tablets are capable of ‘actual telephony’ as the definition of telephony has changed in the age of the internet. I’m pretty sure someone with enough legal skill could argue installing a VoIP app or using a VoIP service with a device lacking ‘actual’ phone call ability should be exempt from this rule outlawing tablet rooting.

          But again, TABLET rooting is illegal? That’s like saying powerful administrative tasks such as sudo rm -rf are illegal. I don’t understand the logic at all.

    • Ian Anderson

      The note is a phone. They market it as a “device with the best of phone and tablet” or “phoblet” but that’s all marketing. I don’t think the “phoblet ” is even marketing. It’s a phone.

  • htowngtr

    So does that mean they can’t decline warranty help for a phone with rooted software?

    • Bob G

      No. They can still decline it if it is in the contract you signed. This just makes it legal to root a phone on your own.

    • Rick Lopez

      Just unroot before you send it in for waranty issues, no worries!

      • Sam’s Son

        But now they can trace how many times you can root and unroot.

  • DMCA not DCMA

  • A win for powerusers everywhere! No matter what your chosen platform is.