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iPhone jailbreak may be legal here, but...
But there will be certain legal provisions.
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JAILBREAKING cellphones like Apple's iPhone is now legal for consumers in the United States, and such phone hacks could be legal in Singapore under certain legal provisions, said media lawyers.

Apple, in particular, has maintained that it does not support jailbreaking - the use of software to bypass technological controls in a phone so that applications not approved by the handset-maker can be run.

The iPhone maker told my paper that "jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience" of using the iPhone, and it "can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably".

But, despite contention from Apple, the US government ruled last month that jailbreaking is legal when used to achieve "interoperability" of applications that have not been illegally obtained, such as pirated apps.

Interoperability is the ability of a product or system to work with other products or systems without extra effort from users.

In the US, jailbreaking was successfully argued for with a legal claim called "fair use". Fair use is a privilege to use copyrighted material in a reasonable manner without requiring consent of the copyright owner.

But Mr Bryan Tan, director of Keystone Law Corporation here, said the fair-use defence is unlikely to apply in Singapore with regard to jailbreaking.

"There is not a process of declaring what is or is not a fair-use defence," he said.

Mr Tan added that jailbreaking might be allowed here if it is done in "good faith" to achieve interoperability "provided that the software is not infringing".

But he said that under Singapore's copyright laws, "as long as a process circumvents the controls put in to control the copyright usage of a material, you have a potential issue at hand".

"I believe jailbreakers run a big risk here if they do it for purposes other than that of interoperability," he added.

Mr Samuel Seow, director of Samuel Seow Law Corporation, said that the legal defence of jailbreaking for interoperability appears to make it "difficult for handset-makers to successfully take legal action against consumers or tech firms for using jailbroken phones or developing jailbreaking software in Singapore".

Mr Daniel Lim, director of Stamford Law Corporation, said that the US fair-use defence "is identical to the equivalent defence in Singapore" for interoperability.

"It is therefore very likely that the position in Singapore will be the same as the position in the US," he added.

If jailbreaking is found to violate copyright laws here, a fine of $20,000 could be imposed on people who carry out the act.

In spite of Apple's jailbreaking qualms, it appears that the firm has not taken anyone to court for using or making iPhone jailbreaking software, including in Singapore, said industry players.

Mr Marc Einstein, industry manager with research firm Frost & Sullivan, said this could be because jailbreaking has not become so prevalent as to make an impact on Apple's financials.

"Plus it's very bad for public relations," he added, noting the bad publicity that music labels got when they went after teenage illegal music downloaders.

Many consumers might be resisting jailbreaking as it voids the warranty on iPhones, he said.

But Mr Einstein said Apple would still frown on jailbreaking because it means consumers can use apps not on its online App Store, where Apple gets a 30 per cent cut on app sales.

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