Jailbreaking Phones Lands A Guy In... Jail!

from the dmca-exemptions-be-damned dept

You may remember, back in 2006, one of the DMCA "exemptions" granted by the Librarian of Congress was for jailbreaking or unlocking mobile phones, for the purpose of moving them to a different carrier. This move was most seriously fought by one company: Tracfone, which offers prepaid phones at a steep discount. Its business model only works if you can't jailbreak phones -- but copyright law was never about protecting one company's bad business model. Tracfone has even claimed that allowing such jailbreaking is a matter of national security. What they really mean is that it's a matter of protecting their business model.

Tracfone actually sued the Librarian of Congress for allowing jailbreaking but, in 2007, quietly dropped the lawsuit because it found that courts were simply ignoring the exemption. Instead, Tracfone just kept suing people for jailbreaking and many caved and settled. What was really troubling though, was that people were being put in jail for this. Now, in the first trial involving such a case, a guy (who has already spent over a year in jail for unlocking phones) has been found guilty of violating the DMCA.

This is according to a press release put out by the lawyers representing Tracfone and they sort of bury the key point: the guy pled guilty. So it's not as if a court judged the overall situation on the merits. But what's scary is that this seems to clearly go against the very exemption the Librarian of Congress made for jailbreaking phones. And we're not even talking about a civil copyright complaint here, but a criminal one... for doing something that the Librarian of Congress has already said is legal.

Filed Under: copyright, dmca, jailbreaking, phones, unlocking
Companies: tracfone


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  1. identicon
    Larry Bingham, 2 Dec 2010 @ 9:42am

    unlocking only pertains to iPhone

    I think some people are confusing the whole unlocking vs. jailbraking because we all assume that the guy was jailbraking iPhones. While there is a clear distinction between JB and unlocking on an iPhone, there is no difference on the phones this guy was jailbraking. In fact, these phones probably do not even run applications where "jailbraking" would apply to software installation. This guy was clearly modifying the modem firmware to work with other carriers.

    That being said, I'm having a hard time seeing where this guy broke the rules. These phones come with a pre-paid amount of minutes; whether you even use those minutes or not doesn't matter. Basically, you purchase the phone and once you run out of minutes, you have to buy more minutes from Tracfone. If you don't, you can shitcan the phone for all they care. They just don't want you to buy the minutes from somewhere else. Therein lying the Achilles heel of their business model.

    Set this guy free. It's not his fault that Tracfone failed.

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