Nearly two months after a licensing issue arose between the creators of the open-source VLC platform and creators of the VLC iOS application, Apple has removed the application from their App Store. The conflict even broke an Apple-created policy on the App Store regarding DRM and applications built off open-source projects. One of the original creators of the VLC open-source platform announced the app’s removal on their blog and had this to say:

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.

Update: Remi decided to lighten up his quote we put above with this (notice the differences):

On January 7th, Apple removed VLC media player from its application store for iDevices. Thus the incompatibility between the GNU General Public License and the AppStore terms of use is resolved – the hard way. This end should not have come to a surprise to anyone, given the precedents.

He also wrote up a nice post about Apple’s involvment (very interesting). It’s posted after the break in case he decides to change that up a bit too.

On January 7th, I was told by an Apple attorney that VLC media player had been removed from the App Store. That is how I was able to break the news first. However as can be expected from an attoryney, there was not really any explanation. A number of people and -unfortunately- popular bloggers have jumped to the obvious conclusion: the VideoLAN project, and I in particular would be idealist morons who care more about technical license details than users, and we would have constrained Apple. This is not quite true.

First, even I do not know for certain why Apple removed VLC, and Apple will probably never state the truth.

Second, Apple has already removed VLC from the “old” Mac Store for computers… already about 4 years ago, at a time when VLC was one of the most popular applications, and I am yet to learn the reasons why.

Third, Apple received my copyright notification more than 2 months before they pulled the application. This was not expedited, as the US copyright law would require. As such, it seems dubious that my well-publicized notification from last october is the root cause of the removal. It is nevertheless the reason why I was learnt directly from Apple that VLC was removed.

Last, Apple had the power and plenty of time (2 months) to adjust and clarifiy the terms of the App Store. Indeed, said terms were modified several times since then. Alternatively, Apple could even have continued to carry VLC implicitly distributed under the GPL by Applidium. This is effectively what I believe the situation was before the removal.

All in all, we will probably never know the truth. But I am inclined to believe what Eben Mogel, from the Software Freedom Law Center, foretold me 2 months ago: Apple would remove VLC simply because it cannot stand software distributed under the GPL on its stores. But, it is Apple’s choice and business decision, therefore Apple would have no reasons to expedite the process. It could also be that they do specifically not fancy VLC on their platforms. That would account for the removal from the Mac Store a long time ago.

I know this would be disappointing to the many Apple fanboys who have insulted or slandered me on the web or over email in the last few days. But I might not be the (anti-)hero people made me.

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