VLC for the iPhone could fall thanks to the GPL

VLC, the popular open source media player, has been ported to the iPhone by Applidium. The media player is available via the App Store for free.

VLC is licensed under the open source license called the GNU General Public License, this license has very extreme views on how the code can be used in an open way. For example it can’t be used with closed code unless code under another specific license is used between the GPL and closed code, you can’t re-license code that is under the GPL, you can’t restrict people using it for anything. Which this all sounds good, it’s not always great for the consumer.

Apple operates a pretty much closed shop (OK, they do do a lot of open source work, but a lot of what they do is closed). This works for them, they sell a you single copy of OS X for each machine you own (there is, of course, volume and family packs), they make more money this way. The GPL doesn’t work with Apple’s way of doing things. Apple say “You shall be authorised to use Products on five Apple-authorised devices at any time” (from here), the GPL doesn’t like things like that.

A man called Rémi Denis-Courmont who contributed some of the original source code to the VLC project has called for the VLC app to be pulled from the App Store. Over on Planet VLC Rémi’s blog post is mirrored (published 26th October). He states “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”. Some might argue that the GPL forces similarly tight control over code that is licensed under it.

So, for the time being VLC is available. But we’ll see how long it stays there for. If everyone who wants it buys a developers license, we can all download the source code and install it on our own devices, of course.


I’d like to quote something Gavin, the author of TechBeast, said on the x404 forums about the GPL:

As this VLC debacle is showing, the GPL is just as much a barrier to free software reaching critical mass. How many new desktop VLC users would have been gained by the app store presence? It’ll presumably prevent VLC from entering the Mac app store too. How many more free software gems will be hamstrung by the GPL, doomed to languish in obscurity?