About Apple store, GPL’s, VLC and BeTrains


So there has been a lot going on about Apple’s infringement of the General Public License. For people wondering about the iRail project (yes, we do GPL too) and BeTrains, I will try to explain this hassle in human words.

First of all for non programmers, GPL explained: when you write a book you will obtain copyright on it. Each author is protected as soon as he wrote something in almost any country and all rights are reserved by you. As a consequence you might want to give people the right to redistribute your book, or the right to edit your book and redistribute it yourself. This is where licenses come in: you can license anyone to make a derivative work of yours. For text (wikipedia for instance) people use Creative Commons, for programs, programmers tend to use the GPL (General Public License).

The GPL license has only one basic rule which says the freedom of both the creator and the user should be respected. There are 4 freedoms that should be taken into account:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.

Of course this has been poured into the mould of lawyers and a pretty complex text came out which did that.

The problem with the Apple store today is that when you downloaded an application from it, you do not have freedom 3. I assume that R. Denis-Courmont (a VLC contributor and less importantly a Nokia employee) tries to change the Apple store to a more transparent system by telling them they infringed on the GPL with their VLC app and they should allow copying applications from one phone to another when they are licensed under the GPL. Instead of Apple adding 2 lines of code to their system which would allow people who downloaded GPL apps to copy those from one isomething to another isomething, they seem to have removed the VLC app from their store which resulted in irrelevant reactions, annoyed users and frustrated contributors.

So what’s the deal with iRail and BeTrains?

Good news! We are still on the appstore although we use the GPL. With the iRail npo (non profit organisation) we own 100% of the copyright on the BeTrains application and by adding it to the appstore we gave Apple the exception to put it online by ignoring the third freedom.

On one hand we do not agree with Apple’s decision. On the other hand we want to give our users the best experience. We believe that if people want to share it with friends they still can look up the source code on project.iRail.be and they still can download the binaries from somewhere else and redistribute it.

Is this the solution for the VLC app?

I don’t know. The VLC team will have to look carefully at who owns the rights to the application and they will need each and everyone’s consent to give Apple this exception and to ‘waive’ this freedom for them. On the other hand the whole point at first was the question to Apple to allow people to redistribute their application under certain circumstances. What Apple’s philosophy is? I have no clue but apparently their products won’t suffer any sales-drops anyway.

– Pieter



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  2. Bert Geens

    Does this mean you have dual licensed the app for inclusion in the App Store? Ianal but even if you give them permission to ignore the 3rd freedom I would guess they are still violating the GPL which could theoretically cause trouble for them?

    I’m also not entirely sure if allowing a company to ignore certain clauses from a license is such a good precedent to set.

    But then again, ianal.

    • pietercolpaert

      Hi Bert,

      no it’s not duallicensed. We have 100% of the copyright in our hands so we can do with the application what we want. Therefor we can also put it on the appstore, and accept the rules of their store.

      I don’t support this way of solving the issue however. Apple should fix this problem theirself and allow sharing of certain apps. As I don’t believe that Apple actually listens to their customers we decided to go for the first solution.

      Has there been any clear statement from apple yet?


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