New DMCA exceptions allow jailbreaking smart speakers, phone repairs

JC Torres - Oct 26, 2018, 12:08 am CST
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New DMCA exceptions allow jailbreaking smart speakers, phone repairs

The right to repair movement is still facing an uphill battle in Congress but they may have gained a reprieve, at least for the next three years. The US Copyright Office has just passed a ruling that modifies exceptions to the contentious section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in favor of third-party repairs. In a nutshell, it will be legal next week to jailbreak Amazon Echoes and Google Homes and, to some degree, repair smartphones on your own.

Section 1201 of the DMCA actually has nothing to do with repairing smartphones or unlocking smart speakers. Instead, it makes it illegal to break technological measures that prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted content, a.k.a. piracy. Such “technological measures” normally refer to DRM but has been used by companies to block attempts to jailbreak devices and repair electronic product. The reasoning is that software, which is found in almost every consumer electronics product today, falls under DMCA Section 1201.

Fortunately, lawmakers left the door open for exceptions to be made and modified every three years. That time has come which is why the likes of iFixit and other representatives of the third-party repair industry have participated in hearings conducted by the US Copyright Office for that very purpose. The good news is that the new exceptions do cover a lot of what consumers have been waiting for all this time. The following will be legal starting next week:

1. Jailbreaking smart speakers
2. Unlocking new phones, not just old ones
3. Repairing smartphones, home appliances, and homes ystems
4. Repairing cars, tractors, and motorized land vehicles
5. Repairing above devices on behalf of an owner

The ruling, which goes into effect October 28, isn’t a complete win, however. It’s still illegal to repair game consoles, for example, and the exceptions only cover motorized land vehicles, not air and water vehicles.

Most importantly, it’s still illegal to sell the tools needed to perform those repairs. So you can legally make your own tools and be paid to repair devices and products for someone else, but not to sell those tools. That requires a more comprehensive Right to Repair Act that’s still an ongoing battle in Congress across different states.


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