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Can you have GPL software in Mac App Store?

I know this is not possible in the iPhone App Store, but is it the same situation in Mac App Store?

NOTE: None of the answers below should be considered legal advice. If you require a legal answer to this question, consult a lawyer.

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GPLv1 is very different than GPLv2 is very different than GPLv3 - especially with respect with whether you can distribute GPL based product using DRM or if the distributor attaches a different license. This question cannot be taken seriously since of course you can submit an app based on GPL code. This is about the legality of licensing terms any way you slice it and adding disclaimers doesn't change that fact. –  bmike Jul 13 '11 at 18:51
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If you mean taking software that you do not hold copyright to, and which you are only allowed to use and copy because it was licensed under the GNU GPL, then no.

The FSF spells it out here: section 6 of the GPL says "You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein", and the Mac App Store Terms of Service explicitly add other restrictions.

The Software Freedom Law Center's legal representative confirmed this: the App Store agreements, on all platforms, are incompatible with the GNU GPL.

Apple seems to be disallowing GPL programs in the App Store as a matter of policy, but if you managed to sneak one through, then the author of the program could go after you for violating their copyright.

A completely different case is where you hold the copyright to a piece of software. In that case, you are welcome to distribute it under more than one license. (For example, Firefox was for a while licensed under the MPL, GPL, and LGPL. MySQL is licensed under the GPL and also a proprietary license.) So if you sell a program through the Mac App Store, you can also release it under the GPL -- assuming you are allowed to do each of these things independently.

(If you wanted to use somebody else's GNU GPL-licensed code in one of the App Stores, you could write to the copyright holder and see if they're willing to sell you an alternative license to their software. They're under absolutely no obligation to do this, of course.)

VLC ran into trouble (I think) because copyright for the software was held by many different people, and the whole program was only allowed to be distributed under the GPL. Some programs sidestep such issues by requiring contributors to assign copyright to them, but most don't.

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This sounds like GPLv3. GPLv2 did not consider DRM. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen May 1 '13 at 16:38
    
GPLv2 does indeed include the clause, "You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein." –  Kerrick Nov 5 '13 at 2:58
    
A bit late, but: What if you grant everybody who downloads your software via the app store an additional copy distributed as a binary, outside of the app store, free of charge? There may be restrictions on the first copy recieved via the app store, but this way you as a developer impose no restrictions on the user's use of the app (that is, the union of both copies). –  jdm Mar 24 at 22:40
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I think the primary sticking point with the iOS App Store was the fact that even if you had the source code it wasn't possible to modify and redistribute an application to iOS devices without agreeing to Apple's iOS App Store terms, as that is the only way to get apps on the device.

The same is not true, however, with the Mac App Store - you could easily provide the source that people can use to modify and distribute the application outside of the Mac App Store, so I think there is no problem with GPL'd apps in the Mac App Store.

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I believe this is the correct interpretation of the GPL. –  bahamat Jan 9 '11 at 10:05
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However, due to the DRM associated with the MAS it may run afoul of right 3, which is the sharing one. But an app that ignores the code signature and receipt (i.e., intentionally "piratable") may be in the clear. In any case, the MAS is not the same as the iAS. Also keep in mind that the original author can dual license. Using MAS license on the MAS and GPL on their own website. –  bahamat Jan 9 '11 at 10:12
    
@bahamat: It seems that enforcing the DRM is optional for MAS apps right now. Even if that changes, you can still install from the source code (bypassing the MAS), so the provisions of the GPL can be met, I believe. –  Thilo Jan 10 '11 at 3:12
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@bahamat: Does it say that anywhere? The MAS does not preclude you from offering alternate distribution channels, and to satisfy the GPL source distribution requirement a link to a publicly accessible website is fine. So if your app includes (in its About page) a link to a web page where the full source code can be obtained, that should be fine. There could even be binary packages, too, although I don't think that would be necessary. –  Thilo Jan 11 '11 at 1:49
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Dual licensing is only an option if all copyright holders agree to it, which is probably difficult unless a single person or company holds all rights to the source. In the VLC case, that would not have worked. –  Thilo Jan 11 '11 at 1:50
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We have a GPL project which we'd like to distribute on the MAS. In my (non-lawyer) opinion it's probably OK to distribute on the MAS, but we may not take the risk with our project. It's a decade old project with none of the early developers involved anymore, so we need to be careful about perfectly following the GPL.

I think the primary sticking point with the iOS App Store was the fact that even if you had the source code it wasn't possible to modify and redistribute an application to iOS devices without agreeing to Apple's iOS App Store terms, as that is the only way to get apps on the device.

If you have Xcode, or if your device is jail broken, then you do not have to agree to the iOS App Store terms to distribute and install open source software. How does this not satisfy the GPL?

I realise you have to agree to a license to install Xcode, and many users are unwilling to jail break their device (I wont do it). But GPL doesn't require your software to be installable by everyone who downloads it. How is that any different from, say, distributing software that only runs on windows, which cannot be used by linux users unless they purchase a windows pc and agree to the included EULA?

The same is not true, however, with the Mac App Store - you could easily provide the source that people can use to modify and distribute the application outside of the Mac App Store, so I think there is no problem with GPL'd apps in the Mac App Store.

What exactly would the requirements be? Do you have to distribute both binary and source code outside the app store, or is just source code enough? Seems like you should be able to have a binary-only distribution on the app store, and a code-only distribution on your website (eg: google code).

Avoiding a second binary distribution would be nice, our team doesn't do binary releases as often as we should — simply because of all the work involved.

This mess is one more reason to change to MIT or BSD, a process we had already begun for other reasons, and are soon to complete. We should be fixing bugs, not discussing the legal restrictions dictating precisely how we give our work to the whole world.

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To the point: "But GPL doesn't require your software to be installable by everyone who downloads it." I'm afraid that FSF complies with Windows only because its unthinkable to ditch it from OSS world. But iOS devices still are a minority that can be shed early on so that it won't build up. Add ZFS to this and you get why I tend to prefer BSD/MIT/Apache licenses over GPL. –  Laas May 9 '11 at 10:32
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You clearly and evidently can have GPL software in the iOS App Store — WordPress being one of the more prominent examples. It also wasn't Apple who objected to VLC in the iOS App Store; it was one of VLC's developers (and there was a heavy debate on the mailing list about whether his interpretation was correct).

For the Mac App Store, I'll lean even closer to it not being an issue. Unlike on iOS, anyone can inspect, modify, compile and run your GPL'd code for free on a Mac; there is no need to pay $99/yr, or to agree to Apple's ADC policies.

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WordPress-the-iOS-app is not WordPress-the-GPL-CMS, and I don't see anywhere that suggests WordPress-for-iOS is redistributable under the GPL. Furthermore, if you own the rights to something, you can distribute it under both the GPL and in the App Store (dual-licensing is not new). Both of these are completely different than taking software which you were given under the terms of the GNU GPL, and redistributing it via the App Store. That the first two are legal has no bearing on the third. –  Ken Aug 5 '12 at 5:14
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I am going to disagree with the sentiment that GPL code cannot be included in either App Store. (as well as stir the pot a bit with no offense to anyone who has answered this so far in good faith!)

Of course anyone CAN take code that is GPL and send it to the app store. Apple has no way to know what code you used unless you somehow embed the license file in the binary. You or someone else has to call their attention to that fact.

Apple's license linked from the Mac App store currently runs 16.7k words in length and allows for a third party license to be different and bind you in addition to their licenses. enter image description here

The GPLv3 currently runs 5.2k words - many of which are openly intended to combat DRM and adding restrictions not expressly already a part of GPL (say like an N-device limitation)enter image description here

It's clear that both the license that Apple attaches to Mac App store and iTunes App store isn't any version of GPL. It's also clear both are intended to be binding legal documents.

So a simple "can you have..." question boils down to several implied questions:

  • Do Apple's terms and conditions for App Store distribution preclude you from using code obtained under a GPL license?
  • Does GPL prevent you from distribution channels that use DRM or don't include verbatim (and solely) GPL licensing in the terms of sale / use.
  • Is it probable that:

    • That they are in some (or any) way compatible?
    • That it will get caught?
    • That there will be repercussions for going down that path?

All the non-lawyers here (me included) are barking at the moon, dancing around questions of the legality of very specific licenses governing intellectual property and copyright. The barking is intelligent and well-meant, but barking nonetheless.

Pretending that GPL is a free ride and comes with no restrictions is naive - it is intended as a legal document with real teeth. I don't intend to insult anyone - just point out how inadequate even a good faith attempt at trying to answer this question will be.

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You restated the question, then described both of the Licenses. This was followed up by saying "You can if no one notices". The question seems clearly targeted at whether the licenses are compatible, not if is physically possible to submit a application with GPL'ed code. –  Fake Name Aug 7 '11 at 4:44
    
I know that and you know that. The question isn't asked in a specific "are they compatible" manner. If someone edits the question, it might be better. I tried to answer a vague question in a vague manner. The op might be unaware that there isn't some code check for licenses instead of a legal framework that exists apart from the store mechanics. You can lie on your taxes the same as using licenses improperly. –  bmike Aug 7 '11 at 15:21
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