Tech law update 30 July 2010

Consumer guarantees & online auctions

The Government is now accepting submissions on its reform of the Consumer Guarantees Act, which will extend standard consumer protections to online auction sites such as TradeMe. The proposed text is as follows:

Supply by auction or competitive tender under subsection (3) does not include supply of goods and services by a supplier through a competitive bidding process using an online trading facility.

This will be a welcome change for consumers, and one I expect will be supported by many retailers.

Jailbreaking iPhones deemed legal

The US Copyright Office has ruled that jailbreaking (or unlocking) iPhones or other devices does not infringe copyright law. This clears the way (for now at least) for consumers in the US to legally use third-party tools to install¬† “unsanctioned” apps on their devices. To date, Apple has kept a very tight grip on which apps can – and cannot – be installed on iPhones (all via its official AppStore). Jailbreaking involves removing or bypassing Apple’s built-in restrictions that prevent unauthorised apps from being installed. Apple (and others) have argued that this breaches copyright law, by bypassing DRM restrictions and unlawfully modifying their code (similar in some ways to the “technological protection measure” provisions in New Zealand’s Copyright Act 1994). Proponents claim that jailbreaking is fair use.

The matter will not end here. Given the revenue involved it is likely to be a contentious issue for years to come. The US Copyright Office is not a Court, so its ruling is susceptible to legal challenge. Also, jailbreaking is still a breach of the iPhone’s EULA:

“You may not and you agree not to, or to enable others to, … modify … the iPhone Software or any services provided by the iPhone Software …”

However the enforceability of such a provision is greatly limited, and in practice largely useless if jailbreaking software and service providers become mainstream.

s92A rolls on

IT lawyer Rick Shera blogs on the New Zealand Law Society’s submission on s92A of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill. He notes the Society’s recommendation that the Bill “should be amended to provide the Court with the power to order that the account holder may not open an account with another ISP during the period of any suspension”. That the existing Bill does allow someone to simply get another account could be seen as a loophole – but part of the reason why I have always thought disconnection was a red herring. In any case, the Law Society’s proposed change is simply draconian.