• EFF: Apple Like a "Jealous Feudal Lord"

    In a surprise move yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation got a hold of the previously secret Apple iPhone Developer Program License Agreement and posted it on their website. Comparing Apple to a "jealous and arbitrary feudal lord," the San Francisco-based digital rights group said that the computer maker was taking advantage of its control over the App Store to make devs agree to unfair conditions. EFF warns that "the future of computing" that Apple heralds is clouded by restrictions like a ban on reverse engineering and selling in alternative marketplaces like Cydia... even if your app gets rejected by Apple.

    EFF got a hold of the confidential document after NASA created its own official app last year. Cleverly, the activists filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the space agency, which was forced to comply, even though the document forbids even government agencies from talking about its contents. Interestingly, though, the document does not define itself as "Confidential…" you just can get sued if you talk about it. Weird.

    Software license agreements are often pretty restrictive, but this one goes farther than most. In section 7.2 it says that if you use the iPhone SDK you can only sell your app on the App Store, and that Apple can reject an app for any reason at all: even if it meets all of Apple's own requirements, your app can still be rejected, and then you can get sued if you try to sell it on Cydia or Rock Your Phone. And Apple also claims the right kill your app whenever they want, for any reason, including that they just feel like it. The stipulation that they can "revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time" is a clear reference to the "kill switch" that Steve Jobs admits they have.

    Although reverse engineering for things like testing interoperability of your code has been recognized by the judicial system as a fair use under copyright law, section 2.6 not only flat prohibits you any reverse engineering of the iPhone OS or SDK, but even forbids you from making anything that might "enable others" to do any reverse engineering. Similarly, the ban on jailbreaking in section 3.2(e) doesn't just cover the iPhone but tinkering with any Apple software or technology, or "enabling others to do so." This means that if you write an App Store app but also do some work that helps some guy develop a hackintosh bootloader, for example, you can get sued.

    And adding injury to insult, section 14 says that, no matter what they do to you, Apple will never be liable for more than $50 in damages. So even if they sue you for something you didn't do, push a firmware update that breaks your app, or accidentally hit the kill switch and destroy your business, you're legally prevented from suing Apple for more than an amount the EFF puckishly notes is "the cost of a nice dinner for one in Cupertino."

    EFF observes that Apple holds the whip hand in this because it controls access to 40 million iPhone and iPod owners, and is using its position to squeeze unreasonable demands from the developer community. "If Apple wants to be a real leader, it should be fostering innovation and competition, rather than acting as a jealous and arbitrary feudal lord," said EFF senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann in a legal analysis on the group's web site entitled All Your Apps Are Belong to Apple. "Developers should demand better terms," he writes, "and customers who love their iPhones should back them."
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