App Law Update – Part 2: Breach of GPL


Here are two more interesting cases involving apps for sale through the App Store. These cases arise from an alleged breach of open source software licenses. In this case, the open source code was licensed under the terms of the GPL. When GPL-licensed code is used or embedded in an iPhone app, does the licensing of that app through Apple’s iTunes terms and conditions result in a breach of the terms of the GPL? 

  • In the first case, relating to an OSS application known as “GNU Go”, the Free Software Foundation complained that the licensing of the iPhone version through the App Store was a violation of Section 6 of the GPL. In response to the complaint, Apple simply removed the app. the FSF complains that Apple’s remedy is to “disappear” the app (as though they are a military junta… some might take that view), rather than licensing the app under the GPL.
  • The second case involves the VLC Media Player, an OSS application ported to the iOS platform. Again, there was a complaint and an allegation of copyright infringement against Apple, on the basis that the GPL was breached. This app is (as of early November) still available in the App Store. 

Apple is not blind to the issue. In fact, Apple’s agreement with its developers is clear that apps should not violate the terms of any open-source licenses, and the developer will be liable for any such violation. One idea is for developers to invoke their contractual ability to use their own end-user terms, and insert the GPL at that juncture, subject of course to the mandatory terms imposed by Apple, that all end-user licenses must contain.  This would be up to the developer to implement, not Apple.

Calgary – 08:00 MT

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