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Should companies be forced to accommodate hackers?

Two lawsuits have been filed over the iPhone, accusing Apple and AT&T of illegal monopolistic behavior. The lawsuit seeks damages because of software Apple allegedly designed to make unlocked iPhones inoperable. Many iPhone users have used unofficial hacks to unlock their phone to work with any network. Apple recently released a software upgrade resulting in many hacked iPhones being “bricked,” making them unusable. The lawsuit claims the upgrade was intended to impair unlocked phones as retaliation against hackers.

Regardless of Apple's intent, people who modified their phones deserve no legal recourse. Users entered into a voluntary contract by purchasing the iPhone and accepted the user agreement prohibiting modification of the “software in any manner or form.” Consumers who violate an agreement and void the warranty do so at their own risk. Apple's only obligation to iPhone owners is fulfilling the terms of its license agreement--and its software updates work fine with unaltered iPhones. Consumers have the right to do with their iPhone as they wish, including unlocking it. But it's unreasonable to expect Apple to go out of its way to accommodate people who are not using their iPhone the way Apple envisioned.

In a free market, companies decide the terms of the products they sell, just as consumers choose whether to purchase the product. Companies should not be subject to civil penalties for placing limitations on warranty support. After all, businesses cannot anticipate what other uses or alterations users will come up with—so they do not support these modifications. Why should Apple be required to dedicate company resources to exhaustively test every third-party modification to ensure every software update is compatible? If these lawsuits succeed, an unreasonable burden will be placed on business, with chilling effects on innovation and creativity.