Saturday, February 21, 2009

How Apple and iPhone Jailbreakers Can Get Along

Full Disclosure: iTimeZone is on the App Store, so I leave it to you to decide if Apple as our application distributer affects this opinion.

It's been in the news a lot recently that Apple wants iPhone jailbreaking to not be legal. You can read all the documents linked through the Engadget article if you care, I have only skimmed Apple's response, and the arguments are pretty simple:

EFF: We bought the device, it's the consumers, they should be able to do what they want with it.

Apple: Jailbreaking violates our copyright, the DCMA, and we get millions of support calls from jailbreakers when the software is broken. Plus, regular people who view a friend's jailbroken iPhone, aka a pirated iPhone, could think that crappy experience is the real iPhone experience. In other words, a jailbroken iPhone is just like a Folex (aka fake Rolex) you buy in Times Square.

This post apparently containing a letter from Cydia (jailbroken iPhone App Store equivalent) to the US Copyright office is interesting. Their arguments all amount to the way I have classified the EFF position. However, it does remind that there are people (I remembered I knew one after reading it) that love the iPhone except for something here, something there. Some choose to jailbreak. It would be intellectually dishonest, as that letter is, to suggest that all or most jailbreakers are just trying to make legitimate changes to their iPhone when everyone knows jailbroken iPhones/iPod touches are running pirated software from Apple's App Store as I found out first hand yesterday. The image on the left is from a blog listing free Appstore games and apps (misspelling on Appstore is the sites). iTimeZone is $1.99 on the App Store, that post was from November, and I haven't seen the current version 1.2.1 pirated yet.

Where do Apple's rights ends and consumers begin? As I learned from a trio of lawyers at the Intellectual Property 101 session at NY Comic Con (I know, real learning at a comic book convention, who knew), what's copyrighted is the product that is being distributed, the whole work. If anyone thinks I have misunderstood this, please comment. As should be plainly obvious is that the iPhone is just a hunk of commodity hardware if it weren't for the software. As a product, you can't separate the two. Apple allows specific uses of their product, as a consumer, that is how you are allowed to use the product, those are the terms of sale. If you were individually negotiating with Apple, and you told them you wanted to break their software, which might break their hardware, after purchasing, they would most likely choose not to sell it to you. As a consumer, you are not entitled to buy any product on the market and do with it whatever you choose. If you don't like the terms of sale, don't buy the product. I am sympathetic to people that buy a product like the iPhone and don't understand its limitations and then choose to jailbreak when they have no other option. Well, they feel that way, their options are to live with it, sell the device and get another, or break the law.

We are all consumers, but we are not all producers. If you are only a consumer, your thinking is different, you feel you should be able to do whatever you want with the products you buy. As a producer, you are creating a work that you put on sale under specific conditions with specific intended usages. How can this fight end? Every device has "jailbreakers" and every producer of devices has to fight this battle. Is there an end in sight?

Apple sets up the ability to register consumers' iPhones as jailbroken. Why would consumers do this? What is the incentive? We all know some consumers are jailbreaking their iPhones and then asking Apple for support anyway (aka they aren't taking personal responsibility for their decision), why wouldn't they keep doing that. I think Apple would have to offer a rebate to people looking to register as jailbreakers, something nominal like $15. Once registered, consumer loses full support from Apple. Reported hardware malfunction resolution is more restrictive then a real iPhone customer. Hardware damage caused by jailbroken software is not a fixable item. The rebate can't be so large that a majority of iPhone owners take the rebate and role the dice only to really want support from Apple in the end. If you take an unregistered device to Apple that is jailbroken, your warranty is voided immediately. Consumers can restore their jailbroken iPhone to the real iPhone OS by Apple for say US $50.

The situation as it is now isn't sustainable, their is mistrust between producers and consumers. Producers works get pirated, resulting in time spent enforcing their copyrights instead of on new or existing products. Consumers feel "cheated" that they can't do whatever they want with "their" product. The only way forward, even if you disagree with my specific proposal, is to attempt to restore trust on both sides by giving consumers more choice about their ongoing relationship with a producer. Just giving producers stronger laws to sue everyone that infringes isn't the answer.