GLP License Issues May Bump VLC from App Store

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VLC for the iPhone and iPad could potentially get pulled from Apple’s App Store over a complaint that it violates the licensing terms for the app’s software. The complaint was filed by Rémi Denis-Courmont, one of the developers involved in the VLC project, because he claims the copy protection Apple adds to all titles distributed through App Store isn’t allowed by the licensing terms of the VLC code.

VLC Media Player for the iPhone

Content available through the App Store gets an added copy protection layer that prevents users from sharing apps, music and videos downloaded with iTunes which is expressly prohibited by the GPL licensing terms governing the underlying code used in the VLC media player.

The app is still available at Apple’s App Store, but there’s a good chance it won’t be around for long since Apple doesn’t selectively apply copy protection to App Store content, and the company doesn’t want to get in the middle of a content licensing battle. Assuming the VLC Media Player app is pulled, users that have already downloaded it will still be able to use their copy.

[Thanks to Mac Rumors for the heads up.]

Comments

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Actually a very interesting development. When GPL 3 was under discussion, there was a lot of debate as to whether the anti-DRM provisions would gimp Linux, for example. In practice though, they may preserve free distribution, which is what authors who use the GPL should want. With VLC leading the way, this could turn into a large-scale market based protest against Apple’s store policies. Or at least jack up the costs for Apple to run its closed shop. Good news indeed.

jfbiii

Yes, in preserving free distribution, they limit it. Brilliant!

ctopher

If there’s money to be made in a swiss-army-knife video application, someone will write it. If not, they’ll have to do without on an iOS device.

If the VLC folks want to have it on an iOS device, they’ll change licenses. I know it’s not straightforward, but if there’s an economic incentive, it will get done.

I use VLC once in awhile. My Mom, can’t figure it out and thus, if double-clicking doesn’t play it, it doesn’t get played.

ctopher

GLP? Wasn’t that an imaging system that used tiny mirrors that enabled awkward teenagers watch GLEE?

Mikuro

Interesting letter from one of the VL devs: http://mailman.videolan.org/pipermail/vlc-devel/2010-November/077457.html

If there?s money to be made in a swiss-army-knife video application, someone will write it

An immense amount of effort has gone into developing VLC and the open-source tools it’s based on. Reinventing the wheel here just for iOS distribution would take years. Would YOU pay $100 for a video player?

weirdinvegas

Seems to be gone already. Cannot download from the iapp store even though it is still listed.

jfbiii

In addition to the fact that the guy complaining sounds like his beef is more about Apple than with the license, Ars found this nugget of a quote:

“The matter is of utter importance for VLC in general,” Goyet said. “There’s the Mac App Store coming along. There are Android app stores. It’s very likely that there will be Windows app stores. And all of those (including the Android one) raise exactly the same problem as the iOS App Store. So should the app be decided non-appstore-compatible, it would probably mean a short-term death for VLC.”

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

And all of those (including the Android one) raise exactly the same problem as the iOS App Store.

Just not true. VLC can be made available via direct download, and the Android OS very gracefully handles side-loading or even informing the user if side-loading is disabled (preferences). So can the Mac version, for now anyway. The app stores need to adjust their packaging to accommodate software that is license incompatible with DRM.

jfbiii

Actually, the people submitting the app can just add a valid end user license agreement that is compatible to the GPLv2.

For its part, VideoLAN has not made an official statement on the matter. However, VideoLAN association president Jean-Baptiste Kempf offered his own analysis of GPLv2 and the newest version of the App Store rules in a separate e-mail to the mailing list, noting that the terms aren’t as clear or simple as they seem. Kempf notes that the App Store terms don’t block open source software, and in fact many of the (latest) rules allow for GPLv2 software.

One questionable point of contention is whether GPLv2 is a “valid end user license agreement” (VEULA). If so, then the App Store license doesn’t need to overlay on top of it, and GPLv2 is left intact. If not, then Apple’s license does apply and GPLv2 has a problem?that is, unless the terms change for one or both parties.

This is the part that could cause issues, but no one is exactly sure, and there are no lawyers involved yet. It seems clear, however, that Kempf is open to the idea of working out the legal kinks?if there are any?to try and keep VLC on the App Store. Though he acknowledges that the whole thing is “kind of grey area,” he points out that, “f this really matters, submitters of the iOS application on the AppStore can add a very simple VEULA that is compatible to the GPLv2.”

As far as graceful side-loading, yes, that is a workaround for Android. But not for any Android app stores.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Side loading is not just a work-around. The single app store as exclusive (legitimate) source of software is an anomaly.

jfbiii

I believe that side loading is a work-around for most customers. Whether or not it is or isn’t, still doesn’t resolve the license conflict for Android app stores.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

A hypothetical Android app store does not have to have the DRM problem. It could, for example, provide DRM for developers who request it, and not provide it for those that do not. And side-loading is not a workaround. It is a feature. If you doubt that, you can look at the initial Angry Birds release on Android. It was a direct download (side-loaded) that was then mirrored (probably without permission, but also without any take-down notices) by many. Over a million direct downloads direct from the publisher in the first day.

Just because Apple tells its customers they are too stupid to download software themselves doesn’t mean everyone is.

jfbiii

*Sigh* It’s a license problem, not a DRM problem. And why does the store have to be hypothetical? Just acknowledge the existence of the problem instead of inventing a reality where it doesn’t exist.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

If you take the Apple-centric view where everything that Apple does is right and everything else must adjust, then you have a point. But in the real world, it is a DRM problem. There is no option in the App Store for apps to be delivered without the DRM and therefore freely copyable among devices. Even working through iTunes, you can’t take the app, stick it on a computer not authorized for use with your account and transfer it to an iOS device not associated with your account. Even with the Enterprise deployment option, you can’t do it.

Of course, original developers are free to offer their GPL’d code under a different license, but they can also insist that their GPL’d code not be used to prop up restrictive app store regimes, whether on iOS, Android, or anywhere else. At least on Android, there are legitimate distribution channels compatible with GPL’d software. And there can be real, legitimate app stores compatible with GPL’d software. Not so on iOS unless Apple let’s significantly relaxes it’s curated garden.

jfbiii

“restrictive app store regime”

Seriously?

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