Software modification will soon be legalised

(Image Credit: Sam Howzit)

New rules have been issued by the Librarian of Congress to provide exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which allows the use of modified software. This will legalise the popular act of "jailbreaking" on Apple devices, and the use of custom firmware on devices such as smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs. 

There are of course rules when it comes to what modified software is deemed legal. Generally, people will be allowed to customise and tweak software if performed for "good faith security research" or for "lawful modification" which do not promote illegal activities such as piracy, spying, or fraud. 

Devices which cannot be modified – due to piracy concerns – include e-readers, handheld gaming devices, laptops, desktop computers, and video game consoles (which Congress specifically claims "console jailbreaking is closely tied to video game piracy.") 

Previous restrictions made it unlawful to examine the inner workings of a vehicle, even if you legally own it. This could be the reason why Volkswagen was able to hide their software which manipulated smog tests for so long without anyone discovering it. 

EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh said:

“This ‘access control’ rule is supposed to protect against unlawful copying. But as we’ve seen in the recent Volkswagen scandal—where VW was caught manipulating smog tests—it can be used instead to hide wrongdoing hidden in computer code. We are pleased that analysts will now be able to examine the software in the cars we drive without facing legal threats from car manufacturers, and that the Librarian has acted to promote competition in the vehicle aftermarket and protect the long tradition of vehicle owners tinkering with their cars and tractors. The year-long delay in implementing the exemptions, though, is disappointing and unjustified. The VW smog tests and a long run of security vulnerabilities have shown researchers and drivers need the exemptions now.” 

With the rise of connected cars, it's likely more people will be interested to see how data provided by the vehicle can be manipulated. Security researchers will also be able to discover potential flaws which could become a danger to a vehicle's passengers, along with exposing any malicious code or incorrect data. 

You can take a look at the new rules on software modification for yourself (PDF

What do you think about the new software modification rules? Let us know in the comments.

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