VLC, the popular media player for Windows, Mac and Linux that landed on the iPad in September and on the iPhone last week, may soon be gone from the App Store. Rémi Denis-Courmont, one of the primary developers of VLC, explained that Videolan sent a formal notification of copyright infringement to Apple regarding the way VLC for iOS is distributed in the App Store. VLC for iOS is developed by French 3rd party studio Applidium.
Basically, here’s the problem: VLC is an open source program distributed under the GNU General Public License (also known as “GPL”) while VLC for iOS is, as you may guess, distributed under Apple’s iTunes Terms and Conditions, which don’t allow users to install both free and paid apps on more than 5 devices. This restriction is also known as “DRM” which stands for Digital Rights Management. So even if VLC for iOS is free, Videolan can’t accept the fact that Apple’s DRM goes against the original GNU license VLC’s code is based on.
So what makes us think that VLC will soon be gone? Rémi Denis-Courmont reminds us that the same happened earlier this year with an iOS port of GNU Go, a chess game that’s distributed under GPL. The Free Software Foundation noticed a port was distributed under Apple’s DRM, but Apple didn’t change its Terms and Conditions. They simply went ahead and removed the app.
Denis-Courmont also suggests that it’d be best to go looking for more open mobile platforms:
In any case, while the rules for distribution of open-source or “free” (as in speech) software are extremely relaxed, they do exist and have to be abode by. VLC and open-source software in general would not have reached their current quality and success if it had not been for their license. Therefore, blatant license violation cannot be tolerated at any rate. Concerned users are advised to look for application on more open mobile platforms for the time being.
To me, this doesn’t come as a surprise at all. Apple doesn’t want to mess with GPL stuff and notification letters by developers. They have their own terms, their DRM system, their own rules and they won’t change them. As bad as it may sound, they don’t want to waste time with these things, and whether you might argue if this is terribly wrong or the best thing to do when having to deal with 300,000 apps (“let’s impose a single DRM system and forget about it”), that’s how Apple works. So yeah, if this copyright infringement debate will go on Apple will remove the app.
VLC for iPhone and iPad is free and still available here. We’ve reached out to developer Applidium asking for more details about the story and we haven’t heard back yet.