VLC for iPhone removed from App Store

It's now officially official, the VLC application for iPhone and iPad has been pulled from the App Store after several months of contention. Some of the contributors to the open-source VLC application contend that Apple's App Store isn't compatible with the GPL (GNU Public License) components of the app.

At last, Apple has removed VLC media player from its application store. Thus the incompatibility between the GNU General Public License and the AppStore terms of use is resolved - the hard way. I am not going to pity the owners of iDevices, and not even the MobileVLC developers who doubtless wasted a lot of their time. This end should not have come to a surprise to anyone.

VLC made it's way onto the iPad first in September and then hit for the iPhone and iPod Touch in October. It was a good short run for the app and if you are one of the ones who was able to download the app within the past three months enjoy it as no one further will have the ability to get their VLC-on on their iOS devices.

[ Planet VideoLAN, thanks Anthony ]

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VLC for iPhone removed from App Store

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This was not pulled because of Apple's restrictions. The creator of the VLC desktop app was upset that the App Store protects the apps from pirating by adding DRM to them. This, he says, violated the GPU and he decided to pull the app.
Seems silly to me since it is a free app anyway.

Actually the stupid one is Rémi Denis-Courmont and the stupid GPL restrictions. Funny thing is that Rémi Denis-Courmont works for Nokia :-)

@aamir
You seem to be the idiot here. Read the 3 comments above to why it was pulled. Seeing as you have an android now, you'd probably be better off going somewhere else to make comments that make you look retarded.

I'm by no means a big fan of Apple, but your comment speaks volumes about your ignorance and inability to read. Android probably suits you well anyway.

Why don't you just use it as you do already, it's just pulled from the App Store, not from your device I guess ?!?

OPlayer. or Movie Player. I guess you can't get more aptly named that short of "video player". I'm sure there are others.
They are paid apps, but hey, if you buy, it may mean they will improve the apps faster than the open source guys.

Oh my God, I can't believe it's happening, fortunately I've downloaded these Apps (for iPad and iPhone), cause I uses this App A LOT...

This article unfairly makes it seem like the VLC devs are acting out of some misplaced emotions, when this was actually a very simple licensing issue. Apple distributed software without honoring the valid licensing terms of that software. VLC did not hide tneir license, yet Apple still did this this knowingly, intentionally, and for a long period of time. If the shoe was on the other foot, and somebody has distributing OSX components in violation of Apple's terms, people here would (rightfuly) be calling for their heads. Apple should not get any special dispensation here because we like their phones. They decided they could ignore the terms of of a developer - or, worse,they unilaterally decided that developers implicitly waive licensing rights by submitting to Apple.
The VLC devs were not "upset" about incompatibilities - there are incompatibilities, and Apple decided other people's rules don't apply to them. They, not VLC, deserve to be called out o. Tis.

The AppStore rules are in plain sight. Why submit an app knowing that the drm added on the AppStore breaks the GLU? Expecting Apple to not add drm as an exception?
This is the fault of the devs of mobile vlc, not Apple, they should not have submitted it in the first place.

Perhaps they should not have submitted it - no argument there (from me).
However, once they did, it becomes Apple's responsibility to vet the licensing terms of the submitted software and either abide by them or reject the app outright. They did neier - and that is definitely Apple's fault, and Apple's mistake.

Apple
Is notbatnfault - they clearly make it the developers responsibilty to ensure submissions are legal. It is not theirs.

No, you never waive YOUR OWN responsibilities under contract law. The VLC developers (assuming they could get every contributor to agree) could give Apple a waiver, or Apple could indemnify a 3rd party, but Apple cannot do that for themselves. Apple distributed software that came with clear, explicit, responsibilities, and they chose to ignore them.

Dev - sounds like not everyone agrees about whether or not the licenses are incompatible. In spirit they may not be (free apps are free) while by the letter they may be (DRM on free apps).
Personally I understand the need to be ever vigilant when it comes to the GPL but I wish there was a pragmatic middle-ground. Let the source be released and the free nature of the app trump the FairPlay wrapper.

Definitely dumb move by the VLC devs...
Did they not know the rules of the App Store, BEFORE they submitted their app?
Or, did they just IMAGINED that Apple would bow down for VLC?
I like the app, but there a dozens of alternatives, OPlayer, CineXPlayer, YXPlayer and BUZZ Player alike.
So, VLC devs, get yourself together and act so... Try to RTFM before you go out shouting!

That does not excuse Apple from ignoring their responsibilities under the licensing terms presented to the. By the developers.

Since VLC (and I presume VLCMobile) freely distributes the source code, anyone with a developer account could compile it and submit it to the app store. The developers of VLCMobile may not have even had any formal association with the developers of VLC.
In addition, even if all the developers of VLC itself were willing to change the license, they couldn't do it. VLC uses other GPL-licensed libraries. Who knows how many hundreds, thousands of developers have contributed to VLC in some indirect way, all submitting code under the GPL.

I have the iPad. I love it. VLC on the iPad was cool, but, buggy. Another cool app gone. Typical Apple nonsense. A new generation of Tablets is coming now, and developers like this will go elsewhere. Watch out Apple. Just saying.

I seriously can't believe how many complete idiots we have reading this blog. I swear the article couldn't have been any more clear that the devs got it pulled but there's idiot after idiots blaming Apple for this, still posting after others have tried to correct their lack of reading comprehension.

Dev and I have debated this one before, and I from the start of this whole TOS/Lic debacle I have felt that this app should never have been submitted to Apple, it should have gone straight to Cydia.
My opinion is that this may have been a stunt on the part of the developer because the App Store TOS for submission is no more a mystery then the GNU Lic is. Apple did ignore the Lic, but the Developer was equally wrong when they disregarded apples's TOS.
VLC is a nice app, and I am sorry to see it go but respect the developer's decision to pull.

We have agreed more than disagreed - I would not call it a stunt, per se, but I definitely think this was at least in part to see how Apple would react to GPL'd software appearing on the App Store. Apple failed this test only in ignoring the license and distributing anywyas - they would have been perfectly in their rights either to distribute the App under GPL rules, or to reject it outright. The fact they did neither, but ignored/trampled the explicit terms of the license, is the only problem.
I don't respect the developers for submitting it in the first place, but I really don't respect Apple's running roughshod over the same sort of licensing and IP rights for OSS developers that they are quick to claim for themselves.

SO.... anyone have any suggestions on a decent media player that can play .wmv's straight from the mail app like VLC did?? I have VLC but preparing for the day I have to change up due it no longer being updated.

Is not having updates a serious issue worth abandoning the app for only standard movie support? Sure, features and bug fixes won't come (pending a Cydia release), but the core functionality of VLC will remain.

@Bill, im wondering the same. I like the VLC player but hoping we will soon find a good alternative since they wont be doing anymore updates. As for now, im sticking with it.

It's a shame the license had to get in the way here. From my understanding the issue was that the license requires that the app is freely distributable. Meaning if I have the iPad version I could give it to someone else directly. Why would that even be necessary if they can get it just as easily from the app store for free?
Dumb restrictions making a good app unavailable to all who don't jailbreak.

You guys are being a bit dramatic about this. Not worth the that much effort imo.
This is a fairly esoteric issue among open source people. They themselves are conflicted about what is possible or not with the GPL when in concerns App Store apps that have GPL code. Whether VLC GPL code should be available in the App Store was disagreed upon by VLC developers themselves. Apple has no horse in this discussion. Since one VLC developer had an issue with it, it was within his rights to request it to be pulled. It didn't matter that other VLC developers thought it was fine.
Here's another example: Wolfenstein 3D uses GPLed code. It's still in the App Store and the developers apparently don't have a problem that.

The license - and whether to grant exceptions/dual licenses, like Wolf3d, is entirely up to the developers in question. Apple's mistake was in accepting the App when those rights had not been explicitly granted by all contributors, and then keeping the app available for distribution after some contributors explicitly said they would not grant those rights.

This sounds like crazy talk to me. What's the purpose of having a written license then?
Applidium reads the GPL and interpreted there action of making the app free, providing the source code free, and making the source code available. Even the VLC org seems to agree with that.
Apple distributes the app. Not sure what there role is other to do the usual cursory checks they do.
Some entity, be it Apple, Applidium, VLC, going back to the contributors and making sure they could use it sounds like crazy talk to me. There's no need assign blame or anything here.
The written word and what people interpret as ok or not, even in the most clear and consistent language, will have corner cases that will have people arguing ad nauseum.
Really, the case here with Applidium's VLC app is splitting hairs to me. But hey, it's their cup of tea and they enjoy it. Good for them. I'm indifferent.

You miss the point. The point in having a license is to enumerate what can and cannot be done. Developers can choose to grant exemptions or relicense for a specific client or store, as presumably was the case with iD/Wolf3D, otherwise they by default have the follow the license terms. If Apple had sought/was granted such an exemption, there would be no problem. They didn't, so the terms of the GPL should have applied. Apple ignored those terms - that was the problem.

I disagree. It is the developer's responcibiltity to ensure their software meets Apple's TOS, including it's license. The submitter should have gotten the exclusions.
Think of it like YouTube. Everyone knows YouTube does not accept copyrighted video, but people still submit it. YouTube cannot vet every video so it expects people to follow it's TOS.
If a copyright owner objects to it's video on YouTube, it can have it removed, similar to what happend with VLC here.

But wrong. YouTube does not purport to vet submissions; Apple does. YouTube does not have explicit contracts with posters; Apple does with developers. And finally, if a license violation is filed, YouTube removes the offending material; Apple continued to distribute well after the violation had been asserted publicly.

I really dont understand this, I love VLC player and the devs themselves complained? Or am I getting the wrong end of the stick?

No, not the developer themselves. They are as pissed at this as VLC for iOS users are. Here's the situation as I understand it.

  1. At the heart of VLC (be it on Mac OS, Windows, Linux, whatever), is software licensed under the GNU Public License (GPL). The software is contributed to VLC by various people and entities. The software belongs to these contributors and they make it available through the GPL, which essentially boils down to enforcing people who re-use the code for their own apps to free distribute it and make it possible for other developers to use freely. There are many fine points and there are many different types of "open source" licensing schemes.
  2. Since VLC is a fairly hefty project, a non-profit organization (board members, directors, blah blah blah) has been setup to provide some modicum of direction, development and organization for the open source parts of the software.
  3. Applidium, a French mobile developer, has taken the VLC open source code and made an iOS app. They are free to do this. Their VLC app for iOS is free and they have made the source code to anyone who wants it. They believe they have done what is necessary to satisfy the GPL.
  4. Apple reviewed Applidium's app and approved it for download from the App Store. However, there are couple of weird things. Apple wraps DRM onto all App Store apps (to prevent piracy, blah blah blah). Another thing about it is that it is not free to the developer to deploy apps onto iOS devices. They must pay an annual $99 fee to be part of the iOS developer program. The DRM limits the distribution of the app to 5 iOS devices.
  5. Some members of the VLC open source community interpret that GPL software (GPL v2) cannot have DRM restrictions, that Apple's EULA cannot be placed on top of the GPL, and who knows what. Some members thinks VLC for iOS is fine. One particular contributor to the VLC software (his code is in VLC) didn't think the GPL allowed this and formally asked Apple to remove Applidium's VLC app from the App Store.
  6. Apple complied.
  7. The usual gnashing of teeth.

No, DRM itself that is the problem. Under the GPL, you cannot add code to a project and distribute it without also making your modifications available under the GPL. Apple is not making their modifications available => license violation. It would not matter if the code added DRM or a menu screen with your mom's Cobb Salad recipe; if that code is not made available, it is a violation. Some people hate that part of the license (we often avoid GPL for this reason) but that is the main feature of the GPL, and it is right there in black and white.

I fail to see how DRM software relates to the GPL. It's entirely about usage rights and distribution.
The DRM isn't part of the program. What it does is encrypt the app binary (or AAC or ePub), and then locks it. iTunes will give the user up to 5 keys so it can be played, run or read on their iTunes compatible device. I can't see how you can argue that the DRM is part of the program here. In different words, DRM is the manner in which Apple restricts usage of iTunes products which include or included music, video, ePub books and iOS apps. Usage restriction is anathema to GPL. The DRM software has nothing to do with it. The DRM itself is simply the manner in which Apple implements the restrictions.
The VLC contributor's issue, with the FSF supporting and others, is that iOS and the App Store restricts how the app can distributed. Only through the app store, only with 5 other devices. The user can't email the app or distribute it themselves.
It's very easy to see how Applidium thought it was fine (or worth the risk) and it's very easy to see how Apple's app review process doesn't care about it.
The application is free. The user can't share the app by their own hand, but it's available to everyone who can run the application by just going through iTunes. In the end, the result is the same. Anyone who wants it, can get it. (Assuming it was available in all countries.) No restrictions on using it. The esoterica is simply that an iOS user can't distribute it, it's really Apple that's doing it. Hence, why everyone thinks DRM is the problem.
As for Apple's vetting, they review thousands of applications every week. The App Store terms for apps are that licenses on software from third party apps is a matter between the user and the submitter (the app vendor). They aren't going to be worrying about the fine details about this, and appear entirely happy to deal with it after the fact.
Personally, there's not much to get excited over. It's a bunch of GPL guys fighting. (This is not uncommon in the "open source" arena as is evident in the plethora of licenses). Everyone knows the terms and risks, and they knew the beast that is Apple. Honestly, there is no need to say there is someone at fault here.
The only way the GPL guys will let GPL software onto the App Store is Apple removing an usage restrictions on GPL apps. Apple will have to allow user distribution and loading of apps in iOS. They are not going to do that. It'll certainly be something done on their own terms.
(For the others, the GPL parts of "open source" isn't the end all or be all. It's one part of the movement. There's a lot of software using the BSD license, Apache's license, Apple's own APSL. It comes in all flavors. GPL is more of crusading, virulent license scheme).

1) Encrypting the binary still modifies the program. There is nothing in the GPL to say this specific type of modification is disallowed, but there is also nothing there that says it qualifies as a linking or other exception. Since it is a modification, and modifications with redistribution by default comes with strings attached, in the absence of an explicit exception, the logical play is to assume the worst.
2) The end result is not the same, at least not for the GPL die-hards.. Allowing end users free access to the program is entirely tangential to the goals of the GPL. The point of the GPL is to force people to share their knowledge as a condition of incorporating your own knowledge. The idea behind the GPL is not to increase userbase; it is the somewhat idealistic notion that sharing everything advances us all faster, and they wrote the license specifically to require that sharing above all else. That it can sometimes increase the software's popularity is gravy those times when it occurs.
3) Good points regarding usage rights also playing a a role. If one were to accept the argument that encryption of the binary is allowable under the GPL, the usage restrictions would still be a problem.
4) Agreed on your comments on Apple's intention; I do not think they were up to anything villainous here. But the simple fact is that they took some software and redistributed against the (usage|modification) terms of (at least one of) its creators. You can argue that Applidium shares blame here, and I certainly would not disagree, but, ultimately Apple also distributed, so Apple must shoulder some responsibility. A company that uses and contributes to open source, and which vigorously protects its own IP against what it perceives as violations, has to do a better job of policing their own virtual store stocking mechanisms.

  1. I read the mailing list thread on videolan.org between Remi and other videolan folks, plus the FSF takedown notice on GNU Go in the App Store. They weren't arguing about DRM or DRM software being a modification that needs to be shared. (Isn't that an oxymoron?) It was usage rights. Apple was a sideshow between the contributor and Applidium. I still don't see any mechanism by which DRM is part of the app. It's a system level, cloud level mechanism.
  2. Hey, I'm not a GPL diehard. Applidium made the source code available. Any developer could have taken it and improved upon it and submitted it to the app store. They then would be bound to make that source code available and free. The only other barrier to distribution would be the 99$ developer program fee. (TANSTAAFL!) I can definitely see why many developers believe GPL software in App Stores would be fine in this scenario. The fine line was that user could not distribute the app by their own hand. Hey, if that's would the GPL owners want to do, terrific! It's their license.
  3. We can all agree that there's always room for improvement. That goes to all parties here. But meh. If one needs video player capable of playing multiple formats, there are alternatives. No need to freak out.

Btw, I don't think Apple did anything in bad faith here; your summary is basically accurate (minus the DRM bit). Their mistake was simply not to dot their i's and cross their t's when looking at this submission, or in fixing it immediately upon notice.. Apple's problem is that the GPL is what people call a viral license. To oversimplify, if part of a codebase is GPL'd, then, with very limited exceptions, all of the codebase has to be GPL'd when redistributed. Your project uses GPL, your project becomes GPL. This is why many businesses (mine and Apple included) typically stick to other licenses - BSD or Apache - when using open source in products they distribute. It is simpler, and much less of a hassle. Because the other issue with GPL'd code is that since each contributor has rights over their own contribution, this viral nature means that every contributor can potentially torpedo granting of exceptions.
This appears to be what happened here. A portion of VLC devs had no issue with Apple redistributing under other terms, but some (one?) did, which meant Apple had no authority to distribute that person's code, which meant they had no right to distribute VLC as a whole. This forced sharing of all code is both the genius and the royal pain in the ass of the GPL, and Apple is far from the first to get caught up in it. In the future, I suspect Apple will have to explicitly deny all GPL'd code, or find some airtight way of forcing the submitter to have sole title to all code.

Consumers don't care about these ethical/philosophical debates. VLC is a fantastic app. I'm glad I downloaded it while I had the chance.

For some reason, I cannot reply to Shrike - perhaps comments can only be nested so deep - good conversation though.
1) I said DRM was not the problem, trying to correct my typo in a subsequent post, because I could not go back and edit it. I do think modification of the binary would constitute a modification under the GPL, but, as I also said, it is not specifically outlined as such in the GPL. Lacking a specific callout, I think it would default to being a modification, but hey, those sorts of gaps is where lawyers make their living.
2) Yes, the usage rights issue is a big one, too, especially on the videolan lists. I will note that the DRM wrapper is what curbs usage rights, so it seems predictable that going after that wrapper as a modification violation would be a logical next tactic even for those who merely want no curbs on usage rights.
3) I never said you were a GPL diehard, just that free redistribution of a binary to end users does not serve the primary goal of the GPL as originally conceived by Stallman et al. They are the diehards to whom I referred - not you, nit Apilidium, and not me,
4) Agreed - no need to freak out, but Apple needs to be far more cautious in their processes when it comes to license issues, because, as this case shows, the GPL is so tricky, and the licensing rights can be so split aong many different contributors.

Yeah, it appears the commenting system only allows 4 nested comments. Discourages flamewars, but then again, the commenting system is a readability nightmare beyond 2 nested comments. The column inches appears to grow exponentially with each reply!
1&2. I know you did, but you also said the problem is with the DRM software (a derivative work or modification whose source needed to be distributed), but all that does is encrypt and lock the binary. Anyways, the open source guys fractured over GPL v3 over that sort of thing, while GPL v2 was unclear about it. I'll leave it to ravages of time to see how it all turns out.

  1. I know you are not saying I'm a diehard. But I'm not going to go so far as to speak for why GPL guys think the end result is not the same. I don't have their religion, so who knows why they think so (in regards to the distribution of free apps on the App Store).