The freetards won yesterday (and why I’m forking VLC for iOS)
A couple of months ago, I was really shocked to see that an app called CineXPlayer had been approved to be in the App Store. This surprised me because CineXPlayer was an app that played video that was in formats that were not QuickTime and/or H.264. Before Apple started becoming more transparent about their policies, it was understood that apps that played non-native video formats weren’t legit and wouldn’t be approved. But this app was approved, and it dawned a new era, one in which we could finally play our DivX videos that we no doubt got from legit sources.
It was with great glee that I later saw a version of the VLC app for iPad announced. VLC has long been a staple on any machine I use, because it will play any video format without complaining about codecs, and it will also play DVDs without forcing the user to watch all the stupid crap that comes with them.
Then, Rémi Denis-Courmont (one of the original VLC developers) got sand in his vagina and decided that this just wouldn’t do. He apparently has some sort of personal vendetta against the App Store, so he sent Apple a copyright infringement notice. His claim is that because apps that you buy through the App Store can’t be freely distributed, that this means that Apple violates the GPL.
No, it doesn’t, you fucktard. The App Store is just a means to install the binary onto the user’s system. The GPL doesn’t make any restrictions on how the binary gets installed; it just stipulates that the developer has to provide the source code to users. They can even charge to do so. And the developers of VLC for iOS have made the source code available on their website.
From the GPL:
We protect your rights with two steps: (1) copyright the software, and (2) offer you this license which gives you legal permission to copy, distribute and/or modify the software.
First off, Apple’s totally in the clear to wrap the binary in DRM, because you’re allowed to modify the software (actually, that’s not modifying the software; that’s putting a wrapper around the binary, which is different).
Secondly, Apple is totally in the clear to distribute the software.
But here’s the part that Rémi probably had his panties up in a bunch about:
3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:
a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)
Easy workaround. VLC could easily have done (b) by including a link to source code in the app description. That’s truly all there is to it. There isn’t a stipulation that the binary has to be freely copyable to anyone. Furthermore, it doesn’t (well, it didn’t) matter that you weren’t personally able to take the copy on your machine and copy it to your friend’s iOS device; your friend could easily download the app from the App Store himself. And if said friend couldn’t be troubled to go to the App Store and download himself, he’s always free to download source code and build it.
Rémi Denis-Courmont, you’re a grade A douchebag. There was an easy solution to this issue (put a link to source code in app description or in app itself), and you knew this would make the app totally GPL compliant, but instead, you wanted to be an attention whore, so you wrote Apple and acted like you’re going on some sort of freedom crusade to save the world from the App Store (note that this is the same App Store without which we probably wouldn’t have mobile app stores because before iPhone there was no hope whatsoever of your average Joe developer getting an app on a mobile phone platform). And you didn’t just quietly and respectfully write a letter to Apple, you had to tell the fucking world about it. And of course, you didn’t tell them that the app would be quite compliant with the GPL by sticking a link in the description, you told them that they’d have to re-engineer their app distribution model so that the small portion of apps that are GPL’ed could be freely copied by the user (despite the fact that it’s already fucking trivial for other people to install their apps because Apple made it dead fucking simple).
So you know what I’m going to do, Rémi? I’m going to fucking fork VLC for iOS. I’m going to fork it because I have a right to (provided that my fork is GPL’ed, which it will be), and I’m going to submit it to the App Store. And I’m going to include a link to the source code, and in the source code, it’s going to say “Fuck off, Rémi Denis-Courmont, what are you going to do, sue me? Oh yeah, you won’t be doing that because you don’t have any fucking money to sue me, you freetard!” in comments in every module file.