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26 May 2010, 12:28

FSF take on Apple's App Store over GPL2 code

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The Free Software Foundation has said it has approached Apple because a GPL2 licensed application, a port of GNU Go, is available from Apple's App Store. The FSF say that distribution through the App Store is not in compliance with the GPL's conditions because they clash with Apple's terms and conditions. The developers of the application, are also not in compliance with the GPL as they do not currently distribute the source for the application. Brett Smith, writing on the FSF blog, is at pains to say that the FSF have not sued Apple or made any legal demand and says the only reason they are announcing this is because Apple has removed applications from the store before without explanation and that they want to prevent wild speculation.

The authors of the application have a brief statement on their site saying that the source code will be available "next week", which would bring them into compliance. However, the FSF say Apple's terms and conditions clash with part 6 of the GPL 2.0, and that the act of distributing a third party's application through their store means that users are unable to practically share and modify the software. It should be noted though, that if the source code was available for the iPhone Go application, users with jailbroken iPhones would be able to compile and install the software on their phones.

The situation could be considered similar to that of Tivo, the PVR maker using Linux as the operating system for it's hard disk recorders. Tivo blocked users from installing their own modified software on Tivo's hardware. The FSF's response at that time was to develop clauses in the GPL version 3 which required that recipients of GPL3 licensed software not be prevented from running their modified versions by hardware constraints. Linux never moved to the GPL3, and has remained GPL2, where it is often embedded in systems which only accept specifically signed executable code. In this case, the FSF appear to be focussing on Apple's distribution of the application in a restrictive fashion. The FSF expects Apple to just remove the application from the store and does not expect Apple to open up their App Store policies.


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