Archive for September 8th, 2010


GPL vs. App Store

So you may have noticed a few months back the kerfluffle that arose when the FSF noticed that an iPhone version of GNU Go had shown up in the App Store, and contrary to previous statements on the subject of GPL compliance leading us and other reasonable people to conclude that GPLv2 was App Store-compatible, decided that App Store downloads are in unacceptable contravention of section 6:

Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted herein.

So they were like all “get rid of app signing so users can install any app!” and Apple was like all “Ah … no.” Good-bye GNU Go!

It is interesting to note, as pointed out here,

An Analysis of the Impact of the FSF Apple Enforcement Action

the Android Market and Windows Marketplace TOS are just as incompliant with the point supposedly at stake here as is the App Store. But the FSF has shown no interest whatsoever in pursuing analogous infringements there. How strange!

But any-ways, there’s lots of other GPL-licensed programs available in the App Store, and Apple’s made no proactive moves to take any of them down in the months since; so it seems that they’re applying the principle that if you claim compliance with the GPL, they’ll take your word for it unless someone complains.

An informative example of that kind of complaint in a significantly sized GPL project, Battle of Wesnoth, over its iPhone port is annotated here:

Wesnoth struggles with App Store’s GPL incompatibilities

It’s actually worth reading through the whole thing, but it really boils down to these two stances.

Stance A:

We do not see a conflict between the GPL and the iOS, and we’d be outraged if you take wesnoth away from us in order to strive for a slightly more fundamentalist interpretation of the GPL.

Stance B:

I’ve come to the conclusion that, both legally and ethically, it’s impossible to justify Wesnoth’s presence on the app store.


There were a number of rational attempts at resolving the issue; most interesting thing to take away was that the CDDL is probably the license that you’d want to pick if you’re an Open Source supporter that retains any last shred of rationality, as it reputedly boils down to “distribute compiled binaries any way you want as long as the source is available”. Seems both App Store-compatible and, well, sane. But opinions are heated, and discussion is ongoing about how to resolve this conundrum; as we write, Wesnoth is still on the App Store, but if it’s gone by whenever you’re reading this, you’ll know the “slightly more fundamentalist interpretation” won the day over the voices of pragmatism. Despite that as pointed out here

… In the context of potential loss of users, it was noted that although an estimated 10% of the userbase were on these devices …

Seriously? Wesnoth’s been around for what, seven years now, completely free on all major desktop OSes, and the $4.99 App Store version takes 10% of the userbase in six months? Kinda impressive, that.

But any-ways. The thing you should take away from this, Dear Reader, is that if any GPL-licensed code strikes your fancy as something that would be nifty on an iDevice, make alternate license agreement with the copyright holder(s) before you spend eight months on the port…