Whose smartphone is it, anyway?

July 27, 2010

Should consumers have the right to modify smartphones as they see fit, or only as the device manufacturer allows? The Library of Congress announced an exception to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act Monday that permits device owners to modify, hack or “jailbreak” their smartphones as long as they do so with “legally obtained” software.

Some device manufacturers, including Apple and Motorola, have attempted to restrict consumers’ ability to make significant changes to their devices. The manufacturers argue that such modifications enable software piracy and lead to technical issues that manufacturers have to deal with via increased calls to their customer support lines.

I’m pleased to see the Library of Congress determine that consumers have the right to make changes to devices that they pay for, but I don’t think that freedom should come without limits. If a consumer installs pirated apps or bricks his smartphone, he or she should be on his own without the expectation of leniency or assistance. In other words, consumers shouldn’t expect their device warranties to remain intact after they make modifications that manufacturers don’t support, and they shouldn’t expect to avoid legal penalties for stealing software.

As Uncle Ben once famously told Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

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