Updated: If you want VLC for iPhone, iPad get it now before it's pulled

VLC for iPhone

Looks like VLC for iPhone and iPad is about to be pulled from the App Store because the Open Source Powers That Be don't believe Apple's iTunes App Store is compatible with the GPL components of the app.

Basically, anything under the GPL has to be freely transferable to anyone without restriction. Since the App Store places FairPlay DRM even on free apps like VLC, even though anyone can still download them, that's considered a restriction.

The long and the short of it is this -- if you want VLC for iPhone or iPad, go get it now.

UPDATE: Ars has a great write up on why the issue may not be as cut and dried, and whether or not VLC really will be pu

[iLounge, iTunes link]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Updated: If you want VLC for iPhone, iPad get it now before it's pulled

23 Comments

It's bonkers. I don't even know what to say. Every licensing system we know needs a rewrite.

Weird...it's like instead of apple pulling an app, the developers decide to remove it instead....

VLC is a great app and worth getting but usually I just convert any videos to use under iTunes if I would need to view them on my iPad/iPhone - which is not too often.
Still, as always, strange licensing restrictions...

Does every App Store misstep have to be spun as a conspiracy where Apple is an innocent victim? There is no mustachioed cabal of open source powers that be here - there is only the licensing terms of the GPL - and adding DRM on top of GPL'd software is unambiguously a violation. It is not "considered" a violation - it is explicitly what the GPL was written to prevent. Apple also neither distributes the VLC's source (nor links to it), nor do they redistribute the source of their changes at all. Apple violated the GPL in multiple, clearly spelled out ways here. You can argue against the GPL, or that VLC should never have been submitted to the App Store in the first place, but that in no way excuses Apple from their violations of the license. The most charitable way you can spin this Apple's way is to claim they were ignorant, and did not do even cursory due diligence on the submission. I, for one, find that hard to believe, as popular as VLC has been on OSX, but it is possible this was just yet another slipshod review, rather than Apple running roughshod over other developer's rights. But it has to be one or the other.

Don't you think the open source people are being very petty here? Apples DRM in no way affects the source code nor does it affect people's ability to distribute it. There is no need to distribute this phone to phone, and thereby make the phones less stable and secure. So now we will be deprived of a useful tool for no good reason at all. If this happens then I hope people start abandoning vlc development so that people who are less petty can develop it.

If they pull it, it won't be a huge loss. I love VLC on my home computers, but it's pretty lame on iDevices. It might have gotten better in time but, besides the licensing issue, it's just too limited under iOS. I agree with the above comment that it's better to just pre-convert to H264, or use something like Air Video to convert on-the-fly.

For streaming content to the iPhone and iPad, AirVideo is the easiest, fastest app at doing so that I've ever seen. It's not 100% free, but it's dirt cheap for what it does and there's a Lite ("trial") version that actually may be enough for a lot of people.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love VLC. I've been using it for over 5 years and I was ecstatic to see them put an iOS app out and for free no less. However, as I said, there are better solutions for this like AirVideo, and stop crying about what you don't understand: The licensing of films and television as well as the music industry is highly complex and there is no easy answer to it right now, as whatever they do, it's bound to leave some part of the content creators out. It is what it is.

@Mike
Distributing the source to VLC in no way makes the phone less stable or secure. Just go to Settings->General->About->Legal on your iOS device to see how much open source software Apple uses, and in far more critical portions of their system. (OSX, too.) Apple's systems are (mostly) secure, even though the source is freely available elsewhere. Apple itself does not release these sources, or their modifications (some of WebKit excepted), because they do not have to -- and that is the point. For those components, Apple quite properly chose OSS software with licenses that gave them that freedom.
VLC, however, is up front that it does not offer that freedom, and never has. Apple still went ahead and modified and redistributed the software with restrictions and without source, both of which VLC's software license explicitly and specifically prohibits. Whether you agree with the purpose of the GPL or not, Apple clearly violated well-known terms of a well-known license. Either Apple's lawyers were asleep at the wheel, or they simply do not care about any license terms but their own.

I don't understand how it is Apple's fault that they violated VLC's GPL license. VLC submitted the application to the App Store, which will do certain things to it in order to publish it. Apple is supposed to change their process around to accommodate VLC's license? Perhaps VLC shouldn't have submitted it if they knew the license was going to be violated.

I knew when I saw the frozen icicles in h ell melting, I knew this wouldn't last long.

Bottom line - Choppy video = No go for me. I'll stick with H.264 codec with MP4 container. Thank you very much!

@thekevinmonster
It is Apple's fault because the terms were there, in writing, and they violated those terms without securing permission or an alternate license. It does not matter who submitted it (unless VLC falsified permission, which does not seem to be the case) if the terms are there in writing. Both as the distributor and as the auditor of submissions, it is ultimately Apple's responsibility to ensure no Apple-incompatible submissions are distributed through the App Store. They blew it here, both technically and legally. That is why it is Apple's fault.

@(Copy of) Dev
VLC is just as guilty as Apple on this one because it's no secret as to how app store submission, approval, and publishing is done. They submitted an app to apple, it got approved. Did apple violate VLC's GPL? Yes, but it was the developer's choice to submit it knowing what the process in-tailed. IF they were truly apposed to the process that apple has in place then they should have released this app solely to the jailbraker community.

@ (Copy of) Dev
Hypothetically speaking, let's say a manufacturer wants to sell it's products through a department store. Let's also say that the department store gift wraps everything and that everyone knows this.
If the manufacturer doesn't want its products gift wrapped, should it even provide them to the department store in the first place? Or is the department store supposed to completely change around the way it operates for this one manufacturer?

@cjford78
Is VLC guilty? Strictly speaking, no, because they did not distribute the code (to Apple) in any way that violated the GPL.
@Andrew
You are missing the point entirely. If I give you something that says "DO NOT GIFT WRAP", even knowing you gift wrap everything, it is still your violation if you sell it gift wrapped. If my policy violates your store policy, it is absolutely your right to tell me to buzz off. It is not your right to violate my license, and distribute my stuff anyways, as Apple did. Any upstanding department store already has as part of their process safeguards to ensure they distribute according to their supplier's terms. Apple either did not have those safeguards, or deliberately chose to ignore them. They should not have to "change" anything about their process. They just need to fix what is broken about it.

@(Copy of) Dev
No they didn't distribute the code, but they did accept the terms and conditions apple had in place for the app store, knowing that apple's use of DRM with the app store would be laired on top of the VLC app. and like I stated before, they should have made this app available via cydia rather then submitting it (to apple) because of the GPL.