Apple’s iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad may be the epitome of devices specially built from ground-up for the media consumer, but the latest dispute from the developers of the popular VLC media player app may put a stop to that. Apparently, it seems that Apple is in direct violation of the licence which VLC is currently released under, and the app now faces a very real danger of being yanked from the iTunes App Store should Apple fail to comply with the licensing terms of the app.
Read on to find out more about the licensing dispute.
When the iOS part of the popular VLC media player client found its way to the app store, countless iOS users were elated, and for good reason. The popular free software was one of the few media players which had extremely broad support for a wide range of media codecs and containers, and having it installed in iOS allowed the device to serve as portable media player for enjoying videos on the move.
However, it seems that all of this is about to come to an abrupt, screeching halt, courtesy of a developer who is among the many who have contributed code to the popular media player application. Apparently, it appears that Apple’s licensing terms regarding its iTunes App Store is in direct violation of one of the terms in the GPL v2, the license which VLC is released under. This could result in the VLC app being pulled from the iTunes App Store, if Apple does not attempt to remedy the alleged violation of the GPL v2 by its distribution of the app in its online app store.
To understand why Apple and VideoLan, the owners of VLC, are locked in this dispute, it is necessary to understand how each party’s software licensing works. Apple’s iTunes App Store gives the company the right to layer proprietary and non-free components such as DRM on any application submitted to the App Store. This is most easily seen by the fact that the VLC player for iOS is restricted for use on only a maximum of five iOS devices.
In contrast, VLC is distributed under the free GPLv2 license. This license, in a nutshell, explicitly specifies, among many other terms, that users have the right to install the software on any number of devices they desire. But more importantly, any code added to the device must subsequently have its source released to the public under the GPL. By adding its own proprietary DRM layer to the VLC app and not releasing it under the GPL, Apple is in direct violation of the GPLv2 license.
The contributor who filed the complaint against Apple, Remi Denis-Courmont, confirmed that a formal notice had already been sent to the Cupertino company. He also expressed some regret that Apple is unlikely to relax its licensing terms, and the most possible outcome is that the company will pull the app from the App Store, thus depriving iOS users of the VLC app.
However, he also made it clear that while Applidium, the third-party which ported VLC’s code for iOS was mostly at fault for taking a risk with a legal grey area, the blame lay largely with Apple and not the third-party developer.
“They (Applidium) bear full responsibility for any consequences. Personally, I don’t
blame them because I know very well how a geek feels when writing cool code
for a cool new gadget,” he wrote in the VLC developers’ mailing list.
This current state of affairs largely mimics a similar case with GNU Go, a chess game which was also released under the free GPL licence. Instead of accommodating the GPL licence, Apple simply opted to drop the app from its iTunes App Store, and it is expected that a similar fate awaits the VLC app if Apple’s past action was a sign of how it dealt with licensing disputes. This is in direct contrast to how Google’s Android Marketplace works, where it specifically states that the app’s licence will automatically take precedence over that of the Marketplace’s in the event of a licensing dispute.
And until VideoLan, Applidium and Apple can sort out this licensing dispute between the App Store and the GPL, it seems that there is only one possible outcome for the VLC media player app. So, if you own an iOS-powered device, we’d strongly suggest that you get your copy of the app now before it suddenly vanishes into thin air.