[F]or some owners of the Apple touch-screen device, the 35,000-plus applications lining the digital shelves of Apple’s App Store are not enough. If you want to use your iPhone as a video camera, send a photo message or hook it up to your laptop to connect to the Internet, there’s no app for that.
Or at least, no official app.
Through the efforts of developers and hobbyists, the Web is teeming with unauthorized applications for the iPhone and the iPod Touch (which does everything that the iPhone does except make phone calls and incur a monthly bill from AT&T), and there are even some independent online application stores.
However, in order to use these programs, iPhone owners have to “jailbreak” their device — downloading a bit of software that bypasses Apple’s restrictions and allows the installation of unsanctioned third-party programs.
The growing popularity of jailbreaking has set up a legal battle between Apple, which says it has the right to regulate what can go on an iPhone, and the users and developers who want to customize their phones as they see fit.
Jailbreaking is different from unlocking an iPhone, in which users modify the software so the phone can be used on unauthorized wireless carriers. For some iPhone hobbyists, like Mark Janke, jailbreaking is akin to customizing a fancy car — it simply allows owners to personalize the look of their devices, turning their phones into a brag-worthy accessory and status symbol.
[…] But according to Apple, jailbreaking is illegal and a breach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. “These modifications not only violate the warranty, they also cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably,” said Natalie Kerris, a spokeswoman for Apple.
In a legal filing [local copy] with the United States Copyright Office last year, Apple says jailbroken iPhones rely on modified versions of Apple’s operating software that infringe on its copyrights.