Monday, January 10, 2011

Apple Butts Heads with the GPL

Well, yet again Apple has found its way into one of my blog posts. Personally I hate to bore everybody with news you all probably know already and companies that even everyday consumers have heard of, when I could be writing about more interesting niche companies that even I have not heard of, but on issues like this I have a strong opinion, so interested or not I'd like to get my two cents out there for whoever may want to read it.

For those not familiar with the application, VLC is a platform-independent media player developed by the VideoLAN project, and is notorious for cross-platform support as well as its freedom. The latter quality is what brings us to today's issue. For the longest time there was one platform that VLC just could not seem to penetrate: iOS. Creating an app for Apple's App Store is difficult considering their tough licensing terms, but the idea of VLC on the iPhone was actually a reality, until the free software community got a reality check.

VLC is licensed under the GNU General Public License, which means not only can it be freely copied, distributed, and modified, but it must be done under the same license. In other words, you cannot copy VLC and then make it proprietary, because that would be absurd (and illegal, of course). Unfortunately, Apple cannot cope with the word "freedom", because such frivolities do not exist in the totalitarian utopia they have created for their end users. In short, Apple attempted to put Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on the VLC app, like they do with all apps in the App Store, and one of VLC's original developers RĂ©mi Denis-Courmont cried foul and attempted to file suit over copyright violation. And, in the end, the VLC app has been pulled from the App Store, and VideoLAN lovers across the world (the size of such population being quite significant) will be disappointed to find that Apple has once again imposed its dictator tactics to try and "clean up" its perfect world. All Apple would have had to do was follow along with the GPL for this one app, and everything would have been fine.

Some might consider this a success for the free software community. Once again the legal weight of the GPL has successfully managed to force Apple to either free the app or dump it. It just further emphasizes the importance of having an actual license on your free software. However, as can be observed from previous example, it is highly unlikely that consumers are going to leave Apple to find VLC elsewhere. Consumers do not care about the legal battle taking place behind the scenes of the software community; all they care about is if they can watch their videos or not. So in the long run all this will mean is that iPhone users can no longer watch Apple-compatible videos on their devices, all because Apple cannot stand the idea of freedom in their Utopian consumer society.

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