Recently I’ve complained a bit about the righteousness of Apache and, at times, its negative effect on open source and Java. Well, recently the GNU Freetards got into the act against Apple. It seems a piece of GPL licensed software, VLC, was published by iTunes, and one of the original developers of VLC sued Apple to remove it from iTunes stating that the GPL conflicted with the DRM licensing required by anything distributed by the App-store. It seems that the DRM licensing forbids reverse engineering of downloaded apps, while GPL allows (and encourages) it.
Its the spirit, not the fine print, that matters
The spirit of the GPL, IMO, is that once something is open source, it stays open source, derivative works and all. If you want to link it with your software, then your software must also become open source. Denis-Courmont’s beef with Apple is just semantics. You don’t need to be able to reverse engineer VLC binaries, because the source is available. You can fork VLC into your own app and post it on the Apple App-Store with no problem. I’ve also heard that the DRM forbids more than 5 copies of your downloaded binary to be distributed on various devices, which also breaks the GPL. So what? You can always download, for free, another duplicate binary.
There are consequences to fundamentalism
The first and obvious consequence to the actions is that iPhone users can’t get VLC anymore, unless of course they have the technical know-how to jailbreak their phones (which the vast majority don’t). The second is that all the hard work of the developers who created the iPhone app is thrown out the door. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty pissed. Third, and most important is, does this screw the rest of us developers that want to distribute GPL/LGPL software for iPhone/iPad? Which pisses me off, because, I prefer the LGPL, and more importantly the spirit of that license, not the fine-print.
I think a better approach would have been to be less confrontational and more cooperative. For instance, I bet Red Hat and other large companies, if you asked, would be more than willing to officially ask Apple to change their policies to be more GPL friendly. There are a lot of different ways to pressure Apple, while at the same time, not screwing the rest of us who want to distribute GPL/LGPL based software on iTunes.
This general approach to life that ideals and principle should always trump compromise gets us things like crappy health care bills, deadlocked legislatures, poor union contracts across various industries, and probably a lockout for the NFL season next year. Hopefully this unwavering/uncompromising idealism that seems to permeate our society as of late is just a fad. One can only dream…
Hopefully Apple does the right thing