updated 03:00 pm EDT, Tue August 28, 2007
Apple, AT&T vs. hackers
Apple and AT&T may be fighting an uphill battle to keep iPhone owners locked into their exclusive service agreements with just one wireless provider. Hackers first developed a dangerous hardware-based unlock for the popular cellular device last week by soldering connections in the iPhone, but by Friday at least one developer said an easy-to-use software unlock was close to public release. Apple and AT&T are working to put pressure on developers of such unlocks, but some legal experts say the tech giants are moving closer to legal action that could prevent a sole agreement between AT&T and the iPhone maker.
Legal experts expect AT&T and Apple to cite the DMCA's section 1201 if or when the issue reaches a courtroom, according to BusinessWeek, which states that "no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title." The companies will claim that the iPhone's exclusive contract with AT&T is that kind of measure because it protects Apple's cellular phone software. Some say that claim is a stretch, however, and doubt the ability of both companies to fend off potential unlocking methods in court.
"This law was written for DVDs and video games," said Jane Ginsburg, a professor of literary and artistic property law at Columbia Law School. "What's going on here is using the Copyright Act to achieve another objective."
Developers planning to release unlocks publicly are not easily bending to the will of attorneys tasked with discouraging such efforts, as many believe in their right to use another cellular carrier with Apple's $500-$600 phone if they wish.
Lawyers note that it is currently legal for users to unlock their own phone, as long as they are circumventing the lock-in "for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network." The law is still unclear with regard to distributing or selling such unlocks, however, as no prior cases have dealt with this issue specifically.