The 7 words you can't say on iTunes

Apple thinks 'jailbreak' is one of them, but this bit of censorship hides a bigger obscenity: The U.S. law that prevents us from hacking devices we've legally purchased

Tonight there's gonna be trouble I'm gonna find myself in/Tonight there's gonna be a j*****k, so woman stay with a friend.

If you're a Thin Lizzy fan, you probably recognize the lyrics to "Jailbreak," but you probably don't remember the song title featuring mostly asterisks. For a few hours last week on iTunes, however, that's how the word appeared to some people visiting the store.

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It seems that, for reasons as yet unclear, someone at Apple decided "jailbreak" was a four-letter word and treated it the same way iTunes treats the words "f**k," "s**t," and "t**s." I'm talking of course about "folk," "soot," and "tots." What words did you think I meant?

That filter applied not only to the handful of apps using the name "jailbreak," but also to the Irish rockers' 1976 classic, as well as podcasts, books, and episodes of "The Real World: Austin" and "The Roy Rogers Show." And though it didn't affect everyone who visited the store, it affected enough of them to make for several perplexed blog posts.

Apple corrected the asterisk problem within a few hours. Was it a bug? A test of a new filtering system? A practical joke? Your guess is as good as mine.

My money is on the last one. I think someone at Apple was having a bit of fun. Why? Because that "bug" happened to coincide with hearings held by the U.S. Copyright Office over the right to jailbreak iPhones.

Two years ago, the U.S. Library of Congress ruled that, just as you could buy a car from a dealer and tinker with it in your garage, owners of smartphones had the right to tinker with the OS -- meaning that jailbreaking was no longer an offense punishable under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Every two years, the Copyright Office holds new hearings over possible exceptions to the DMCA. That was last Thursday, more or less around the same time people starting noticing the j*******k effect. The exception the copyright cops carved out for smartphone hacking expires next year. The question is whether to renew it.

That meant Hollywood & friends had the chance to square off against digital activists, librarians, hackers, and the rest of the anti-DMCA throng at the UCLA School of Law.

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