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Apple recently banned an e-book reading application called Eucalyptus from the iPhone app store. Eucalyptus doesn’t actually contain any books, but it allows users to retrieve classic books in the public domain from Project Gutenberg. Apple banned the seemingly harmless app because one of the books archived at Project Gutenberg and therefore retrievable by Eucalyptus is a text-only Victorian-era translation of the Kama Sutra. Apparently someone at Apple did not approve of an app that would allow users to access such “objectionable” texts on their phones.
Apple implements technical measures to prevent iPhone users from running unapproved software and has come under fire for its strict approval policies in the past. Earlier this month Apple rejected a Nine Inch Nails application because of swear words in the song “The Downward Spiral.” Frontman Trent Reznor called the rejection hypocritical because Apple carries the song in its iTunes store. He also threatened to offer the app on the black market for users who jailbreak their phones. The Eucalyptus rejection seems similarly hypocritical and ridiculous because users can easily obtain the Kama Sutra or other pornographic materials via the iPhone’s Safari web browser.
When the app store was introduced, Steve Jobs listed certain traits that would prevent an app from being allowed in the store: “Porn, privacy, bandwidth hog, unforeseen, malicious, illegal.” But Apple’s acceptance and rejection policies are unclear and secretive, and many have criticized the approval process as being anti-competitive, discriminatory, censorial, and arbitrary. Despite these arguments, Apple maintains that jailbreaking iPhones to run unapproved apps is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA makes it a crime to produce and disseminate technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures designed to control access to copyrighted works; it also makes the act of circumventing an access control itself a crime.
Earlier this year the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed an exemption request with the Copyright Office in the hopes that it will make an exemption to DMCA liability for jailbreaking cell phones. The EFF’s Civil Liberties Director, Jennifer Granick, stated, “The DMCA is supposed to protect copyrighted works, not reduce competition and consumer choice. Cell phone users need a clear message from the Copyright Office that modification is protected.” The Copyright Office will issue its final rulemaking order in October. Regardless of how the Copyright Office comes out on the matter, Apple should consider relaxing its approval policies a bit and making its process more transparent, or it risks alienating iPhone users and potential app developers.
– Allyson Brown
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