Many of the most vocal critics of jailbreaking — a group which includes Apple itself — have been quick in the past to cite the fact that hacking your smartphone is a violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and thus illegal.
It wasn’t a bad argument, all things considered, but if you’re used to relying on it, you’re going to have to ditch it: the Copyright Office has just issued a new set of exemptions to the DMCA, making jailbreaking and unlocking your iPhone officially legal.
The exemptions were pushed through mostly thanks to a campaign launched by the Electronics Frontier Foundation.
Here are the two exemptions as they specifically apply to jailbreakers, quoted from the official record:
The Librarian of Congress has announced the classes of works subject to the exemption from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. Persons making noninfringing uses of the following six classes of works will not be subject to the prohibition against circumventing access controls (17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)) until the conclusion of the next rulemaking…
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….
Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.
In other words, it is now okay to jailbreak your iPhone to run legally acquired software (for example, through Cydia) and to unlock your iPhone to run on another network. The Dev Team is no longer a group of outlaws, even technically.
This is a huge win for the EFF and jailbreakers. You can find the full ruling here.