VLC Sticks it to the Man

One of the developers of the VLC iOS application, Rémi Denis-Courmont, has sent a formal notification of copyright infringement to Apple for violating the terms of the GPL (GNU General Public License). Basically, the fact that all App Store applications are DRM’d—including open-source apps like VLC—doesn’t fly well with the GPL, and VLC wants to have a say in the matter.

When VLC for the iPad (and later, iPhone and iPod Touch), was under review for the App Store, many users thought it would be rejected due to the conflicting terms of Apple’s distribution model and the GPL’s “free and open source” model. Courmont is fairly certain that VLC will be removed from the App Store sometime in the near future, since an app with similar GPL licensing was removed by Apple last May.

At the time of writing, the infringing application is still available. However, it is to be expected that Apple will cease distribution soon, just like it did with GNU Go earlier this year in strikingly similar circumstances: http://www.fsf.org/news/2010-05-app-store-compliance . Thus, users of iOS-based devices would be deprived of VLC media player, as a consequence of the intransigently tight control Apple maintains over its mobile applications platform.

Years of lawsuits and copyright infringement cases in the tech world have made us accustomed to companies suing each other over intellectual property or ”lost profits”, so it is odd to hear about a company fighting for the opposite: the right to give away and modify every bit of of data. The plan could easily backfire on VLC, and cause Apple to remove the application immediately, but there is a small chance that Apple will adopt the GPL in the App Store. Cross your fingers.


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