Most of the world seems to know by now how New Jersey teenager George Hotz cracked last week the Apple iPhone protection lock which tethers users to the mobile services of AT&T. Thanks to Jennifer Granick and her team, what he did is probably covered by a 2006 rulemaking exemption promulgated by the Copyright Office. According to the specific exemption concerning cell phones, circumvention liability under section 1201(a)(1)(A) of the Copyright Act, to the extent it might apply to Hotz's circumvention, does not attach. It is less clear, however, whether telling everyone how to do that by posting instructions on his blog would not violate 1201(b)(1), prohibiting “trafficking” in tools that help others to circumvent TMPs. Promulgated exemptions do not apply to trafficking liability even if the actual circumvention is covered, as odd as it may sound.
Perhaps less people know that almost simultaneously, the same protection was also compromised by three Israeli computer engineers. The Israeli press runs this story (in Hebrew) showing a video how the three were able to use an iPhone purchased in the U.S. in Israel while connecting it to local cellular networks. Now they are working on Hebrew internet support to the iPhone and promise to tell everyone all about it (apparently also how to “open” the device) on their newly-established site (also Hebrew). Unlike Hotz, they do not yet explains how they did it, but it seems that their solution is purely software-based, as opposed to Hotz’s messier technique.
The three musketeers prefer to stay partly anonymous (no last names mentioned), but I don’t think they have to worry, at least not about anti-circumvention claims, should they decide to upload all the juicy details. The reason is that Israel, a technology leader in the eyes of many, simply does not have such provisions in its copyright law.