The App Store and GPL Apps

Aristotle Pagaltzis on why I was wrong about the GPL and the iPhone SDK:

Sorry, John. I can clearly write GPL software for the iPhone — but not free software. And if I do that, Apple can’t give it to you — not on the App Store’s current terms and conditions. They impose restrictions on the recipient of the software that the GPL forbids third parties from placing upon the recipient on pain of losing the right to distribute the software. Apple is in violation of the software’s licence for distributing these GPL applications through the App Store in the first place.

Interesting conclusion. I think the counter-argument is that the GPL (as well as any other software license) applies to third-parties, not to the developers of the apps themselves. And when developers grant Apple permission to distribute their apps through the App Store, they’re explicitly granting Apple permission to distribute them under Apple’s licensing terms, not the GPL.

Update: And the counter-counter-argument to that — as pointed out by numerous thoughtful readers — is that the above would only apply if the developer in question were the sole author of the entire app. If the app makes use of GPL’d frameworks or libraries written by others, the developer would not have the right to grant Apple permission to distribute the app under the App Store terms. And then there’s the whole GPL3 vs. GPL2 thing.

Thursday, 24 July 2008